I bought the book for myself, and all views are 100% my own and honest.
CW: gore, violence, suicidal ideation, implied/discussed sexual assault
So, this novel is situated strongly in the Horror genre, as it tells the tale of what happened after a colossal hurricane buried Florida’s coast under water during a rainy season, and the 326 employees of FantasticLand, an amusement park composed of six different “worlds”, who are trapped within with enough food and water and such to survive, but a la Lord of the Flies, it goes horribly wrong as the employees become 7 tribes (Mole Men, ShopGirls, Freaks, Pirates, Robots, Deadpools, ) who fight for dominance of the park, and safety for their tribe.
The narrative is told in a series of 23 interviews, a few with the leaders of some of the tribes, and a PSA from the Florida National Guard. The author’s note situates the events as taking place between September 15th and October 15th/November 1st, 2017. And, from the various perspectives, we see how and why what happened in the park happened.
I am reading on a Kindle, so any citations will be based on that and not on page numbers.
Below, the review might contain spoilers, so I am putting it under a Read More for that purpose.
So, the novel is basically a tale of what happens when teenagers are stuck in an amusement park with everything they would need to survive for a couple months, with many of their friends and coworkers, and someone goes and fucks all of that up.
The first hint of teenage behavior comes in the cliques which arise from this situation. The ShopGirls, the Mole Men (not actually teenagers, but still), the Robots, the Deadpools, the Pirates (who turn out to be much less Pirate and much more Savage as the novel goes on), the Fairies (who mostly become part of the Pirates), and the Freaks. In a park where employees are basically separated into different factions from the day they are hired, depending on which World of the Seven they are hired into, was it any wonder that they would all split up like they do? They have been taught, been shown all summer, or all year, that their World is their Home and their Family, so after a disaster, you hole up into what is your Home.
Second is something less good, that is the follower mentality which is both a blessing and a curse in the world of teenagerdom. It is a blessing in that it will help you to make friends, such as the Tribes in “FantasticLand”, but on the other side, it leads to cultish behavior, like in some of the Tribes in “FantasticLand”. The members of the Pirates were likely not all that savage when they joined the Tribe, but Brock Hockney’s, who is called “The Pirate Monster of FantasticLand”, influence helped those who might have been and may have forced those who weren’t into doing so to stay alive. Then, we have the Freaks, who had the cleanest entryway to their area, but had the most gruesome area of any Tribe, due to the time of year being the sort with very realistic fake body parts and organs.
My favorite Tribe, it must be said, is the Freaks. They were the least liked of the Tribes, and they were not fighters. But, they had a very simple philosophy which worked for them: “People say suspense is terrifying, but they’re not correct. You must be given a framework and jolted to attention for the fear response to start manufacturing its own nightmares. That’s all we did. We had the framework, which was being trapped in the park. We have the jolt, which was the gore. Once that was in the mix, people began to get genuinely afraid of us, which meant they left us alone. Which means we won, in a very real and tangible sense” (Loc 2391 of 4145), basically saying that they were big and scary so that no one would attack them, and they survived, so it worked. The leader of the Freaks, Glenn Guignol, says this literally, “We were going to appear fearsome; we were going to puff our plumage as big as possible and hope no one noticed we were nothing but some artists and stoners” (Loc 2433 of 4145).
My favorite weird fact is that the ShopGirl Archers, they all named their arrows. So, in combat, they would yell out the name of the arrow as they let it fly, which is terrifying and hilarious, since you might get shot with an arrow with your name or someone else’s name on it.
As one reads along, they are transported into the world of “FantasticLand”, a theme park made with the best of intentions but which ended in a flooded bloodbath.
As I keep reading through this novel, the topic of violence keeps coming up. But, it is not the kind of “humanity is inherently violent and evil” or the “teenagers are all one hurricane from mass hysteria and murder sprees”, and more of the “humanity can be pushed to violence and evil if worst comes to worst, but it is not the default state” along with “a few are inherently evil and their influence can be vastly more powerful than one expects” with the example of Brock Hockney, leader of the Pirates, and the man who seems to have started all of the massive violence in the Park, if you listen to non-Pirates (who wanted to be Pirates). By his words, he says that part of the reason why he did what he did was a lack of management, and the fact that his brother died in the shelter (he was the kid who died without an inhaler), which is interesting to read and learn.
Of the violence stated throughout the novel, we have failed brandings, and mutilation, head bashing and hand cutting-off, hanging and cannibalism (which is first mentioned in chapter ten), murder in so many various methods, and it all seems utterly horrifying which is absolutely the right way of showing the horrors of a disaster. And, of all the violent events, cannibalism is the only one referenced twice but never dicussed further, which calls into question if it ever actually happened.
We also have a generally medieval set of weapons spoken of: swords, bow and arrows, stanchions, etc. but that changes once Sophie Ruskin, who is interviewed in chapter ten, gets mad and sober after a bender due to the disappearance of her lover, Austin, and who is sitting on ALL of the guns in the park. When we get to the following few, we have the Leader of the ShopGirls talking about how she was her best self while leading them, how she brought them together, made them a force of protection for their Tribe, including the Archer Corps which are six of the SGs who are decent or adept on the bow, and who protect their area.
We also have the first interviews with Pirates, Chase Pounder and Sal McVey, who have very different experiences with the Pirates, but who both show that everyone before who spoke of Hockney as a monster might have been just afraid of him, as he did unite the Pirates early and organized fights which rarely ended in deaths, and was violently opposed to any disrespect or maltreatment of women (all accusations of rape against the Pirates is potentially false or single entities).
One of the central conflicts is between the Pirates and the Deadpools, whose areas are next to each other, and whose leadership is simply trying to keep their own safe, but technically, they both started the conflict they are in. The Robots are building up for safety, the Mole Men are under the Freaks for that as well, and the Freaks are bluffing, and the Fairies don’t really exist. But, they are agree on one thing: Garliek is, without a single doubt, out of his damn mind and not at all in charge of anything, contrary to his own belief. It is best put by Lousie Muskgrove, a Deadpool, when she says, “He reminds me of Wormtongue, from Lord of the Rings…whispering in the ear of a king with bad idea after bad idea. Only difference is the only king he was whispering to was in his own head. He thought he still had some sort of authority” (Loc 2531 of 4145) which leads into the Council of Peace/Pieces.
During which, the Chekov’s Cannon (named due to the fact that it came up a couple times in previous interviews and finally showed up) went off when Hockney tried to take out the other Leaders of the other Tribes. Which led to multiple deaths and a man trying to staunch the bleeding of a man who was missing a large part of his head.
The only anonymous person is so because of legality and personal safety, which says something when it comes to the FantasticLand Incident.
Perhaps the greatest fear in the Park is “the Warthogs”, two people in all black except for what is basically “meat with horns where horns shouldn’t be” as Jason Card puts it in his interview, who are thought of as an urban legend of the park during the events of the novel, but also as crazed murderers if they do exist. Jason saw them, Sal saw them, but there is no proof of them, and they aren’t part of the Freaks. And they are apparently stalking Jason with postcards. When rescue comes, all that is ever found of them is their masks.
At the end of the novel, we learn what will happen to FantasticLand. It has been sold and torn down, and the buyers have plans to replace it with “a park where people can pretend to join a tribe and fake fight with other visitors” (Loc 4085 of 4145) which is honestly very very likely in such an event. What better way to commemorate a horrific tragedy in a theme park than to make it a theme park of the tragedy on the location of said tragedy?
The Amazon summary has the following line, which I take some umbrage with: “FantasticLand is a modern take on Lord of the Flies meets Battle Royale that probes the consequences of a social civilization built online.” This line, while seemingly innocuous, is actually rather terrible. “Lord of the Flies” was written to show white British nobles that their children could totally be savages as much as the people they called “savages”, and Battle Royale is actually pretty apt, other than the government sanctioned murder field being a government ignored (because those in charge of the park say those inside will be fine) amusement park. The line brought me in, sure, but I like to think that at this point, it is more of an annoyance at part of it, and less because it was enticing. It is a good book.
If you have liked my review, and want to check the book out for yourself, here is a helpful link: Here