Summary: Hallie and her friends are lost, stranded in Holyoake—a small town deep in the mountains. A town isolated from the rest of the world. A town that time has forgotten.
At first, Hallie is charmed by Holyoake’s odd customs and old-fashioned ways. [Wing: LIES.] The townspeople are warm and friendly, and they’re eager to make Hallie and her friends feel right at home. They want to make sure that Hallie and her friends stay in Holyoake. Forever.
Tagline: Pack your bag…
Way back when I first recapped Class Trip, I talked about how I’d read Class Trip II and really enjoyed it, but had never read the first book. Had never even considered finding the first book, despite the fact that Class Trip II is very clearly the second book in a series.
So finally, years later, I read Class Trip. I enjoyed it — sort of. And now I’ve come back to Class Trip II, which I loved when I was a teen. Here’s hoping it holds up. (I’m reading an updated version, I think, so who knows how that will compare.) [Wing: Note from the future, I didn’t actually notice any differences, because I was so enthralled.]
The chapters have titles. Useful? Who knows. But I’ll share them.
Chapter One: The Place of Worship
Oh no, it’s actually a prologue. In italics. We have a white-robed leader, torch light, and a Goddess who is angry because it’s been 10 years since their last sacrifice. Crops are failing, no live babies are born. There is also a group of twelve leaders, all men, also dressed in white robes. They say the ancient gods are not dead but live in fire and water and wood and stone. Soooooooooo, Rice is taking on paganism in this book, I guess.
One of the men points out that they’ve sacrificed animals and straw burnings (I assume effigies), but that’s not enough, “straw maidens and animals no longer satisfy” — he claims the Goddess, but I’m claiming they no longer satisfy his own serial killer tendencies.
The leader proclaims that they must have a Fire Maiden for the feast of Beltane. YUP. Point Horror Does Paganism, and I bet there’s going to be at least one Wing Goes Boom moments. (On the other hand, this focus on fire may be part of why baby!Wing loved it so much.)
Beltane bonfires are great. (Sister Owl is pagan and celebrates Beltane with fires. Also, she’s probably going to throw things at me when she learns her new name. Sister Owl is the oldest of us, and for some reason that makes me think: Owl.) Sacrificing living people to bonfires? Modern day urban legends, at least generally.
ANYWAY, the leader and the twelve elders will choose the Fire Maiden, just like last time. A woman in the crowd says that 10 years ago she gave her “beautiful, flame-haired daughter” to the Goddess and was proud of it; she then lambastes everyone else for not being willing to make the same sacrifice. I don’t think they’re the ones with a problem here, woman.
The rest of the village have hope that the Goddess will send a sacrifice from “The Outside” which certainly doesn’t make this whole thing seem like a cult, not at all.
The leader, though, decides that he’s going to send a few of their best men to the Outside to find the perfect sacrifice and lure her to the village. Oh, men, always with the burning and the sacrificing and the tormenting young women.
Chapter Two: Does not have a title, WUT. Rice, did you use ONE chapter title and nothing else? WTF.
We finally meet our main characters, starting with Hallie Anderson. She and her friends are on a road trip in an ancient white van. They’re in a remote, mountainous part of their state, far from civilization, with badly repaired roads and few gas stations. They’ve been driving for 6 hours when the trip was only supposed to take 4. Yeah, that’s a bad sign.
Adam French: Driver, owner of the white van, waves away Hallie’s worries about the motor making weird noises. Adores Becky, quiet when Becky and Hallie get going.
Becky: Dating Adam, defends the eccentric van, OH YEAH, RED HAIR, GEE I WONDER WHO WILL BE THE SACRIFICE. Dreamy, romantic, obsessed with the past, looks and dresses old fashioned. Has long, thick hair the “rich, warm red of a blazing fire, with all its shades and striations of color.” Becky, I would like your hair please and thank you.
Hallie’s riding with Becky and Adam because she didn’t want to spend four hours on a school bus with her ex-boyfriend, who just dumped her for another girl; in a nice twist, her only regret is that she didn’t get to dump him first. They’re all headed to a Shakespeare Festival, and Becky, knowing how Hallie felt, invited her to ride along with her and Adam instead. (They’re competing with a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is Hallie’s favorite play.)
Becky and Hallie have been best friends since the fourth grade; she says Adam and Becky have been together as long as she can remember. Does — does that mean they started dating in the fourth grade?! And here people think Ostrich and I have been together a long time.
There is some great description here: As the road twisted and looped higher and higher around the mountain, the rain turned to a thin drizzle, then stopped altogether, giving way to a mist that blanketed the road and hung from the branches of the low-lying shrubs like wispy, tattered cobwebs.
Such a creepy setting! I love it.
The road is narrow and twisty and has a sheer drop-off on the passenger side, but eventually they find a wider spot where they can pull over and check the map. Adam turns off the engine when he does, which seems like a terrible idea, considering what weird noises it makes. You sure you’ll be able to get it started again, Adam?
Hallie shows them the map. She was able to follow the main road, but then they turned off onto two different side roads, and she can’t find either of them on the map. Why — why did you turn off on them in the first place? I’m so confused with the choices you’re making. It’s not like you were just driving for fun and turning wherever you wanted to check something out. You’re in a hurry, you have a target location and a deadline. WHAT KIND OF CHOICES ARE YOU MAKING?!
As Becky finally admits that they’re lost, the swirling fog reminds Hallie of the fog machine from when they did Brigadoon last semester, a play about “a quaint little village with a curse on it.”
That? Is foreshadowing. And not super subtle or effective foreshadowing considering we already had a prologue all about the damn village.
Adam swears that they’re not lost because every road goes somewhere, and if they keep going, they’ll find a town or a gas station or something, and they can call the college where they’ll be competing and let them know they’ll be late.
They’re just about to keep driving when an old Model T Ford, and Adam is enthralled by it. Hallie orders him to jump out and see if the driver can help; he’s a middle aged, average height man with receding hair; Hallie thinks he seems perfectly normal, but he gives her an uneasy feeling anyway.
Becky goes to help Adam get directions, and the man, of course, does a double take when he sees her. Hallie’s not too surprised by this, because people always stare at Becky when they first meet her, though not the same way this man stares at her.
Hallie finally goes to join them, and her uneasiness about the man only gets stronger, in part because he has an odd, smoky odor about him that’s not tobacco smoke and is not unpleasant but is puzzling. BONFIRE SMOKE PERHAPS, WITH SACRIFICES, WHAT?
No, surely not.
Anyway, the man is telling them that they’ll soon reach a little down called Holyoake (…subtle), and though he doesn’t know much about it, he thinks they probably have a garage where they can get help with the van and call the college and get directions or something. (Hallie notices that he has an odd accent, maybe an old-fashioned one.)
When she introduces herself to him (WHY?), she sees a tattoo at his wrist, but can’t quite make it out because it’s mostly covered by his sleeve.
They head toward Holyoake, and Adam finally admits that there’s something going wrong with the engine. He’s not worried about breaking down before they get to Holyoake, though, because it’s downhill to the village and they can just coast if necessary. That totally sounds doable on twisty mountain roads.
Sure enough, they can’t just coast to the village, which they briefly spot through the trees (or at least the church spire). The road is too twisty and too full of potholes, and Adam has to stop a couple times to bang on the engine to keep the van going. (When in doubt: hit whatever has stopped working. Adam and I come from the same repair school, I see.)
The road dead-ends in a primate dirt road that leads to Holyoake, Population 400. Holyoake has a real village green and old-fashioned gas lamps and early colonial wooden houses. The pumps at the gas station look like old pumps from World War Two, and the gas station is actually have country store. Customers carry baskets rather than paper bags. Becky is thrilled, because she loves history so much.
Just as they arrive, the van dies. Convenient.
As always, when Becky gets out, everyone around stops to stare at her and her blazing red hair. God, Holyoake, no wonder you avoid the Outside, you’re all terribly unsubtle. Hallie’s bad feelings continue to grow, because while people do stare at Becky, they don’t usually look at her like she’s a freak.
I love how protective Hallie is of her friend, even when she’s not sure there’s anything to actually protect her from.
A woman asks if there’s something wrong with their “machine,” and Hallie agrees with me that’s a strange thing to call the van. I mean, it is a machine, but that’s not generally how we refer to them. Except maybe if you’re living in an old-fashioned village. (Curse optional.)
One of the women recommends Norman to them, who is their mechanic and runs the store and the gas station and takes care of the fire engine. He’s multi-talented, that Norman.
Though everyone is speaking with old fashioned phrases and acting strange, Hallie does think she hears a phone ring off in the distance. That makes her remind the others they need to call their teacher as soon as they find out what’s wrong with the van. This is why schools don’t let students drive themselves to events anymore. It’s all your fault, Adam, Becky, and Hallie!
Norman is a rumpled-looking man in baggy overalls that look like something from the Great Depression. He’s businesslike, though he, too, glances at Becky a little longer than necessary. He checks out the engine, then tells them his bad news, which is that it’ll take a long time to get it running again, at least until the next night and maybe even longer.
They’re super disappointed by this, because that puts them there until at least Saturday night and the festival ends on Sunday. Their weekend is ruined! And it is, but you’ll soon be worried about much more than your weekend, you poor kids.
Norman then tells them that their phone system is old and the phones are down because of a bad electrical storm. It happens all the time, but it’s not really a problem for them because they rarely call the Outside.
Hallie can hear the capital letter in that, and thinks it’s a strange way of referring to people who don’t live in the village. You are not wrong, Hallie. You are not wrong.
She points out that she thought she heard a phone ring inside the store right before he came out to talk to them, but he assures her that couldn’t have happened. He was boiling eggs on a hot plate, though, and maybe she heard his timer. (That is some serious hot plate use, Norman. I have to say, I’m impressed. Also, nearly every time I type his name, I type “Normal” first, which he very much is not.)
As Norman is talking to her, Hallie recognises that he looks a lot like the man who gave them directions to Holyoake, with the same blue eyes, facial structure, and build. She thinks about asking him if they’re related, but decides the man on the road would have mentioned it if he had family there. But would he, Hallie? Would he?
(She’s generally very sharp, which is a huge part of why baby!Wing loved her so much, and even when she makes the wrong decision, Rice is good at showing it in a way that makes a lot of sense.)
They keep looking for ways to get in touch with civilisation (a telegraph machine, a bus, even someone driving Adam to the next town), but Nathan shoots down every one and explains that Holyoake is basically a commune and they don’t leave the commune very often.
Hallie compares it to the hippie communes from the 60s, and Norman says that’s kind of it. The people in Holyoake have lived there for a long time and most of them are related by blood. That’s why it works, they think of themselves as one big family.
Did you — did you ever think that maybe you’re having so much trouble with live births BECAUSE YOU’RE ALL FUCKING INBRED?! None of the others seem as disturbed by the small town + nearly everyone is related = WHO THE HELL ARE THEY SEXING UP AROUND HERE as I am. Cool.
Nathan tells them a little about Beltane, their big social event, and asks if someone could make the call for them. Netty Talbot (town librarian, “spinster lady” who has no children or man to worry about) needs to go pick out some books for the school library. She’ll be in town all day, so he doesn’t think one of them would want to go with her, but she could make the call.
AND YET NOT A ONE OF THEM DEMANDS TO GO. COME THE FUCK ON.
I might buy this more if any one of them was worried about leaving the others or about splitting up, but nope, they just accept that of course none of them want to go to town why in the world would they ever want to do that? Like I said earlier, normally I love Hallie and Rice writes things in a way that makes sense, BUT NOT THIS TIME.
They’ll be staying with Mrs Grigsby, who has a bunch of spare bedrooms. She’s a widow, she’s supporting her nephew, Simon, and Norman whispers to them that she could use the money. That’s a pretty decent way to manipulate them into being happier about staying. They can help someone out, they feel like they’re doing a good deed, and even though at least one of them should have gone to town, they think their teacher will know they’re safe. Pretty slick there, Norman.
Sure enough, Becky calls Norman sweet for helping them, and Adam says people are like that in “small, out-of-the-way places.” You two would walk straight into a haunted house because surely it’s just a person in a mask or take a poisoned apple from an evil witch, wouldn’t you?
Hallie does not agree with them, or with Becky’s proclamation that Holyoake is special, she can feel it, and it really appeals to her. Hallie is too busy noticing that as night has come on them, people are stealthily looking at their windows and staring at them.
It takes Norman a long time to come back, and for awhile, they see shadows of people inside the house, but when Becky asks Norman about it, he says no one else was there but him, Mrs Grigsby, and Simon.
At the house, Mrs Grigsby putters around being friendly and welcoming (and has the same eyes as everyone else we’ve seen so far related to Holyoake), and then Simon comes snarking into the room. Hallie thinks he’s gorgeous, tall, dark, handsome — and dangerous. AND INSTEAD OF FAWNING OVER HIM, SHE’S ONLY GOING TO BE IN HOLYOAKE FOR THE WEEKEND. I love you, Hallie.
The girls get one room and Adam’s is across the hall. The girls’ room overlooks the town green and has antique four-poster twin beds with handmade quilts and ruffled pillows and on and on and on to really drive home the point this is homemade and old fashioned and out of time.
(It’s actually very nice writing, though.)
They have dinner by candlelight, and the way the light reflects off the wavy, dimpled glass in the windows (obviously hand blown), it turns them into mirrors, and Hallie can see Simon’s profile; she catches him watching her quite often.
I find that whole dark outdoors, light indoors, windows become mirrors thing terrifying and therefore wonderful. Anything could be out there, watching. Waiting.
During dinner, Mrs Grigsby is friendly (too friendly, Hallie thinks, trying too hard), and keeps piling praise on the girls about how pretty they are (and how that must be why they’re friends). When she, too, talks about how everyone in the village looks alike, Hallie can’t help but look at Simon, and Mrs Grigsby explains that sometimes one of the villagers marries someone more “exotic” and his mother was a Spanish Outsider.
Intentional gross racism works here, because it is definitely not supported by the text as a good thing.
After dinner, Mrs Grigsby tells them (and us, which makes it basically an info-dump, but it’s handled fairly deftly) about how the Holyoake ancestors lived together on a small, remote island off the northern coast of England, and the people there clung to their old ways, their old beliefs, their old religious practices. That was why they were forced to leave England. Hallie compares them to the Pilgrims, coming to America to escape religious persecution, and Mrs Grigsby sort of agrees with that but sort of doesn’t too.
Simon turns up to snark at Mrs Grigsby some more about Holyoake being a real pillar of righteousness, and Hallie is once again glad they’ll be leaving before the weekend ends, because all of the hostility simmering under the surface is hard on her nerves.
Brace yourself, Hallie, it’s only going to get worse.
Simon and Hallie go to bed (or at least excuse themselves from the conversation), but Becky stays down to talk to Mrs Grigsby because she’s really enthralled with all the history. I like this characterisation of her quite a bit, and I love that she and Hallie are such different people but have been close friends for so long. It’s nice to see decent friendships in one of these books.
Hallie wakes sometime later when Becky comes fumbling into the bedroom, her voice slurred and her movements awkward. She says she just suddenly felt all sorts of exhausted, and Hallie believes that, even though it seems fairly clear that she’s been drugged. Now, I know my perception is coloured by the fact I know something is happening, since I know this is a book and what kind of book it is, but at the very least, I would be worried they got my friend drunk.
Becky briefly mentions some herbal tea and then passes out; Hallie tries to go back to sleep, but is wide awake after Becky startled her. She does worry, then, that something is wrong with Becky, because Hallie is awesome in the long run and I love her so much.
AND THEN SHE EVEN GOES TO BECKY BEING DRUNK — OR DRUGGED.
HALLIE THIS IS WHY YOU ARE MY FAVOURITE.
Hallie gives up on sleeping and takes her travel alarm clock over to the window to see what time it says (not a digital clock, clearly); while she’s there, she sees something deliciously creepy:
The flickering lights of the gas lamps that ringed the Green illumined the gaunt, twisted branches of a huge old oak tree. She’d seen it when they’d first arrived in Holyoake, hunched in the twilight on the far side of the Green, like an evil presence.
She knew it was old. She’d noticed right away that it looked ancient, and that it was wired and propped up with forked limbs to keep it from falling down. Now, in the uncertain light of the gas lamps and a cloud-covered moon, there was something menacing about it.
As she watches, she sees a bunch of people wearing long white robes and carrying torches, though she tries to convince herself they are just candles. The people go into the church, and Hallie freaks out because that seems unnatural. She can’t wake Becky because she’s sleeping too hard. She considers waking Adam, but doesn’t want Mrs Grigsby catching her knocking at his door in the middle of the night.
But why do you care, Hallie?
Anyway, she tries to convince herself it is just a candlelight service of some sort. At midnight? Sneaking around? Oooooookay.
And then, because she makes decisions that are both awesome and terrible, Hallie goes to peek in on them, which she promises herself isn’t really spying. It takes her forever to sneak out of the house, but she manages it; outside, she can hear singing, though “it was a tuneless monotone sound, more like chanting than singing. A strong male voice would call out something, and the congregation would answer in an eerie, one-note chant.”
This is seriously fucking creepy. Hallie is creeped out too, no matter how much she tries to convince herself that nothing is wrong and they’ll be happy to see her if they notice her looking.
Simon is, of course, the one to catch her snooping around. He tells her that she’d better go back to bed and mind her own business, and she’s freaked out and angry and frustrated as she hurries back to bed.
The next morning, Mrs Grigsby tells them more about the town over breakfast (which Becky is sleeping through, natch): the town was named for the big old tree because their pastor (Mrs Grigby says with that same strange pause and inflection) brought a seedling oak from the old village’s place of worship when they came to America. It’s been standing there for nearly three centuries, which, damn, nice transplant there.
More talk about their ancestors being descended from one of the old pagan tribes and considered the tree sacred. She then tells them that they need to meet Reverend Thoreson, their vicar (yes, again with the pause and inflection); there has always been a Reverend Thoreson, because they pass that down from father to son.
(Thoreson makes me think of Thorson, which makes me think Thor was frollicking with this cult way back in the day which made me smile.)
Later, Becky and Hallie go for a tour of the village to see everyone getting ready for the festival. Mrs Grigsby tells them to look for the Reverend, who will be getting things ready for the pageant; there will be games and food and a big bonfire, and everyone dresses up in medieval costumes. Well that is quite convenient.
Again, Hallie notices how everyone stares at Becky’s hair. You’d think they would have learned some subtlety over the years.
Joshua Sidlaw, one of the elders, gives them a tour at Reverend Thoreson’s request. He tells them, again, about propping up the tree and how the women are decorating it with flower garlands, an old tradition that stems back to when they worshipped oak trees (“… among other things.”) NO SERIOUSLY LEARN SOME FUCKING SUBTLETY.
They check out the Maypole, which ensure fertility, and the wood people are laying for the bonfire. Wood and cattle bones, that is. Becky thinks that’s disgusting, which seems to hurt Joshua’s feelings a little. It, again, is an old tradition, burning the bones during the feast of Beltane, because “bonfire” comes from “bonefire” and was a sacred celebration of the summer and the growing season.
(I went down the rabbit hole researching the etymology of “bonfire”, and if you are interested, the Oxford University Press has a great breakdown of it: While dancing around a bonfire, beware of analogy.)
Hallie and Joshua have a conversation about human sacrifices and why they still celebrate a feast where, once upon a time, that happened. (Once upon a time as in a decade ago, but sure, whatever.)
Becky has a little freakout over the idea of being burned at the stake and how even if she believed in the Goddess and all the legends around it, she would never want to die like that.
Okay, now you’re the one who needs to consider some subtlety, Rice. (No lie, though, I really enjoy that bit. It’s ridiculously over the top and yet.)
Though Becky is off to look at Mrs Grigsby’s herb garden, even she is now freaking out over the gruesome traditions and wants to get out of there when they can.
Hallie continues to wander around, and finds it weird that there are so few children watching the preparations for the festival. The few kids she sees look pale and unhealthy. She’s pondering this, and whether the flu is going around the village, when she sees the man who gave them directions back on the road. She starts to wave at him, but he looks horrified and runs away.
JESUS CHRIST LEARN SOME FUCKING SUBTLETY PEOPLE.
She finds that weird, too, but goes on to explore the church, which looks normal from the outside, but inside is cold and makes her feel lost or trapped. There’s a bitter smell of herbs and burnt grass or straw, and thinks about them burning straw effigies. It’s nothing like any church she’s ever seen. There are backless benches and old garlands on the floor, heavy iron sconces holding unlit torches, and a long, black stone table with thirteen chairs. She gets dizzy and catches herself against a white marble thing that at first she thinks is a baptismal font, but then she realises it is too big and also the bowl is stained a deep rust color. Perhaps the color of — blood?
She’s caught by one of the men, who tells her that though he didn’t mean to frighten her, their place of worship is not open to strangers. Oh, snap, it’s Thoreson, their vicar. He’s kind of charming, now, and she marvels at how fast he switched moods. He herds her out of the church (and she does not mind getting out of there at all), and as he does, she notices a tattoo on his wrist. She thinks it is an image of flames. His eyes are also different, pale silvery gray, unlike everyone else in Holyoake with their round blue eyes.
Hallie goes off to check on the van and finds Norman and Adam working on the engine. One of the hoses has more holes than Hallie remembers seeing the last time she looked at the engine, which is a pretty great detail for her to notice. Adam tells her that the fuel pump is broken too; it was supposed to be new when he bought the van, but he thinks the guy who sold it to him was a liar. Hallie is not convinced that the seller is the one lying around here.
Adam is super excited to show her the big water tanker that Norman keeps in mint condition, an old fire engine that carries its own water. He’s enthralled by it and tells her all about it. I find Adam utterly charming, too, in his enthusiasm. All three of these characters are pretty damn great, and I love the way their friendship seems realistic.
Back at Mrs Grigsby’s house, Hallie hears a phone ringing and rushes inside. She catches Simon on the phone speaking to someone in a low voice, but when Hallie tries the phone, the dial tone immediately goes dead. Simon says he was talking to the repairman, and sure enough, there’s a guy up on the telephone pole outside, but she’s not sure whether he’s fixing the line or disconnecting it.
(Also, speaking of subtlety, if you say the phones are down MAYBE STOP MAKING FUCKING PHONE CALLS OMG.)
Oh, goody, another italicised chapter about what the villagers are doing. And this one doesn’t have a title, either, so there goes that theory.
Anyway, Thoreson chastises Sidlaw for not keeping Hallie busy and away from their Place of Worship. Simon’s there this time, and he points out that the phone lines should have been disconnected the night before because what if one of them tried a phone (…I’m shocked they didn’t try one last night, to be honest), and that Hallie heard Simon on the phone with Thoreson even though they all agreed not to use the phones. Well, at least they tried to be subtle, except for Thoreson who clearly thinks himself outside their rules. Thoreson smacks Simon down for criticizing him, and then they talk about Mrs Grigsby giving Becky her most potent herbal tea that will make Becky putty in her hands.
Sidlaw asks what they’ll do with Adam and Hallie after the sacrifice, and Thoreson is sad they won’t stay and add fresh blood. Which they certainly need. He, in fact, thinks Hallie would have been a good match for Simon, because in between all the burning and bloodletting, Thoreson likes to play matchmaker.
Of course, Thoreson can’t risk them staying because they’ll tell the first Outside who comes through the village, so they must die. And, of course, he wants Simon to do the killing this time. (With an implication that one or both of Simon’s parents were killed for betraying Holyoake.)
While she’s waiting around for lunch, Hallie starts poking through some of Mrs Grigsby’s books, which are about herbs for amulets and enchantments and fertility incantations. She’s busy reading about red wool because red is the color of fire and blood (how fucking convenient) when Simon snatches the book away from her.
They shout at each for awhile about how rude the other is (but don’t end up frantically making out after, which would have been the way trope writing would go); he then suggests that they leave on foot, and he’d be glad to escort her along a little road that goes up over the mountain. Hallie brushes this off as him being insulting, but if I felt as uncomfortable as she did, I’d be trying to convince my friends to go.
(I probably wouldn’t leave them so I could go get help, though. No telling what they’d get up to while I was gone.)
Adam is starting to notice how weird things are too, and he and Hallie end up walking around together watching all the preparations. Hallie tells him all sorts of her theories about how the town is abnormal (though she doesn’t mention the red stains in the church, because even she thinks that would be too much). Adam spots a graveyard behind the church and wants to go read the old tombstones, because he loves doing that.
I kind of want all three of them to be my new BFFs.
Hallie tells Adam about seeing the guy from the road, and now Adam is tapping into the theories about how the town might not be such a good place for them. This is excellent! They aren’t just ignoring everything in order to move the plot along. They are truly stuck, and they are getting worried, and they can’t yet see a way through any of it. I love this.
They check out the graveyard and find a bunch of tombstones for girls between sixteen and eighteen, and some of the markers are more than 200 years old. Adam realises that they’re not tombstones, they’re markers where no one is buried under them. And all of them are for the first of May across different years. They both see the significance of that and the engraved image on each one that is crossed bones surmounted by flames. A bonefire, Hallie says, horrified.
I LOVE THEM SO MUCH.
Adam recognises it from Norman’s tattoo, and Hallie says that she thinks Thoreson has one, too. They’re freaking out a little when Simon joins them — and Hallie sees the same mark on his wrist, too.
Oh god another italicised chapter. Simon lies and says that Hallie and Adam did not see the memorials to the Fire Maidens. Turns out, Simon only has to kill Hallie after the festival, because Adam might be too much since it is his first time. (That could go a very different way that Thoreson means.)
Back at Mrs Grigsby’s, Hallie and Adam find Becky distant and wide-eyed and vacant. They think she’s acting like a zombie, especially when she follows Mrs Grigsby around whenever Mrs G tells her to. After Mrs G takes her into the kitchen, Hallie and Adam talk more about their worries (and throw around “crazy” a lot, but it’s kind of a minor thing here — annoying and it could be a slap in the face if I had a depressive cycle going on right now rather than a manic one, but survivable), and then Hallie finally asks if he thinks that Norman has sabotaged the van. Adam agrees. They rehash all the things that have concerned us, as the readers, and it’s good to be validated, but it’s a little boring to recap it again when I’ve already recapped all those moments, so moving on. We know what they’re talking about.
Dinner is delicious but awkward, until Becky announces that she’s been picked to be the May Queen, at which point it gets creepy because she’s basically acting like a puppet. Later, Hallie and Adam try to get through to Becky, but she’s too caught up in her drugged stupor to believe anything they say. Hallie decides to keep Becky away from Mrs Grigsby; while they get ready for bed, Becky can’t even change her own clothes, Hallie has to help her. That’s when Hallie finds a bronze amulet around her neck, with an engraved picture of a bonfire on it.
After Becky falls asleep, Hallie sees everyone headed into the church again and goes to get Adam, who is also ready to figure out a plan. They both try to sneak out of the house, but Simon is standing right outside the front door. (Hallie can see him clearly in the full moon. You know what sure would come in useful right now? If Hallie was a damn werewolf. #needsmorewerewolves)
(Wait, I might write a book like that. Ignore what I just said.)
He’s not angry now, but pale and anxious and vulnerable. He tells them to get back into the house, promises that he’s on their side, and says they only have an hour and they need to talk. They go up to Adam’s room for privacy, and once they’re inside with the door and curtains closed, he tells them they have to leave that night.
Even though Hallie and Adam have basically put all this together already, they’re still shocked when Simon flat out says that they still believe in human sacrifice. COME ON. YOU WERE ALREADY THERE.
We then get Simon’s backstory. Ten years ago, during the last sacrifice, he was seven and his parents made him stay at home rather than watch. His mother, an Outsider, thought it horrific (which it is) and so they tried to escape over the mountains, but Mrs Grigsby betrayed them and inherited the house because of it. And his parents were fucking stoned to death, fucking hell.
Simon’s plan is fairly simple: he’ll ask Mrs Grigsby to check on them when she gets back, then make a show of going to his room. He’s worked hard to make everyone think he hates Hallie, so blame won’t fall on him. He gives them a sketch of the route and tells them to go to the police, the FBI, the newspapers, anywhere and everywhere to get the story out and make them stop. Mrs Grigsby sleeps hard and is going deaf, so if they’re quiet and leave late, they’ll make it. He also oiled the bolt lock on the inside of the door so it will be quiet.
After Mrs Grigsby checks on them, Hallie has the frustrating task of trying to get Becky dressed. She’s not helping at all, and Hallie is terrified of trying to get her out of town and over the mountain trail. It sounded hard enough when everyone was in the best of shape, but Becky hasn’t slept off any of what Mrs G gave her.
Despite that, Hallie manages to convince Becky to be quiet, and they make it out of the house and through the village. However, there’s a manned barricade on the road, so they’ll have to cut into the road sooner than planned. They can’t use the flashlight and they have to walk quietly, but he is confident.
And then one of the men lights a match and Becky calls out that it’s Mrs Grigsby’s nice friend Sidlaw. Awesome. They’re trying to save your life, woman.
Adam drags them into the woods and they try to make a run for it. They’re loud and clumsy, but there’s no sound of pursuit. Gee, I wonder if that’s because they’re circling around with the few cars they have.
The elders start firing shots to signal the villagers, Adam runs into a thick branch, Becky starts being even less responsive, and Hallie is begging them both to move to run to help — and then Becky becomes active again and they run off to the stream. It’s a great scene, them running in the dark and slamming into things and falling into the stream and the guns and the horns in the background as they’re being hunted.
They decide it’s safe to cross the road because they haven’t heard any sounds of pursuit and surely none of the villagers think they would follow the stream, etc. etc. etc., which means, of course, that the second they step onto the road, they’re surrounded.
Adam keeps fighting to reach Becky and so they tie him up. Hallie fights, too, but Thoreson won’t let them tie her up (and Norman is really eager to do it, gross), because the Goddess doesn’t like them to bruise her sacrifices, and it’s bad enough they had to do that to Adam.
Thoreson then villain monologues at them for awhile about sacrifices and poor harvests and unhealthy offspring (INBREEDING, FUCKER). Hallie suggests, you know, a doctor would help with healthy children, but again, INBREEDING.
Hallie and Adam are locked up in a cellar under Mrs Grigsby’s house. Hallie gets Adam untied, but so much of the fight has gone out of him. He feels responsible for everything and heartbroken that he hasn’t saved them. Hallie talks him back into energy and they try to find a way out. Adam finds that the bars over the window are a little loose, so they try to pull them free. Then he tries to dig them loose with his Dallas Cowboys belt buckle; when it breaks, he says he’s always been a Redskins fan anyway, and fuck the Redskins, that fucking racist name and mascot.
Hallie hears birds start chirping and realises that dawn is coming even though it’s still very dark. She’s just about to give up when Simon appears at the window. He has yet another plan.
Hallie’s thrilled to see him and can’t help but notice how kind he looks now and how she should have seen that from the beginning. Oh Hallie no. He was intentionally acting like a dick toward you. You should have noticed nothing.
Anyway, new plan: Right before the start of Beltane, Simon will knock out the one guard in the kitchen using Mrs Grigsby’s herbal tea and then free them. They wear medieval costumes and masks to blend in (convenient that they brought their costumes with them, isn’t it? Chekhov’s Gun right there.), and they won’t even stand out for having costumes the others don’t recognise because everyone makes new costumes each year and try to trick each other. Gotta make your own fun, I guess.
Then they’ll get Norman’s truck, because Norman is the only one who gets to keep his own key (Thoreson has the rest). It won’t be locked up because the ashes are loaded into it to be scattered on the fields.
Becky will be in the Place of Worship with only Mrs Grigsby (which is a reach, assuming they won’t have a single other guard on her), and they can overpower her and drive off with Becky, Simon going with them this time.
He gives them a flashlight, kisses Hallie through the bars (for luck, and I hate that I am a little charmed by those two after he’s been such a dick for so long), and now all they can do is wait.
Adam explores around the room and they find Deborah Evans’ name scratched into the wall, along with the May 1 date, and forget me not. UGH THAT IS FUCKING HEARTBREAKING. Her own mother locked her in there to wait to be burned alive.
Simon is running late to let them out because Mrs Grigsby came home and the guard didn’t want to drink his tea (because people can’t be trusted to act upon your assumptions, Simon! I would have thought you had that figured out by now), but finally he frees them. Hallie quickly gets changed while Adam and Simon drag the guard into the cellar. She even thinks to cover her hair with a plain scarf because her dark hair stands out against all the blondes.
They’re finally all dressed and join the frenzied crowd, but the next problem pops up almost immediately, which is that Norman’s truck isn’t there yet. Simon goes to check while Hallie and Adam try to blend; Hallie feels sick when she sees that the elders are all wearing scarlet robes and hoods this time. Red for burning, which is terrifying and wonderful. All but Thoreson, that is, who is still in white and who has a wreath of leaves on his head. SUBTLE.
Couples dance around the Maypole, and it reminds Hallie of a rock concert she went to once where the loud music and the “gyrations” of the musicians caused mob hysteria. It’s well done here, even with the silly word choice there; it makes my chest tight and makes me frantic to read more.
Hallie is frantic, too, and frightened because there is something evil in the air.
Young women take more wreaths to the ancient oak and kiss it before they decorate it, which makes me think we’re about 30 seconds away from full blown tree sex. Greaaaaaaaaat.
Simon comes up then to tell them they’re in trouble, because Norman isn’t there. He’s at the fields, getting things ready. They’re now desperate to find transportation and also there’s a storm brewing that means the elders are moving up the ceremony. This is going well!
Trumpets sound, the ceremony begins, Adam freaks out because they’ll need a tank to get to Becky now — and Hallie has a grand idea. I love her so much.
They have to wait until the elders bring Becky out or they’ll be noticed leaving, but they’re all so focused it won’t be a problem to run after that point. Hallie isn’t scared anymore. She’s angry. Furious. Determined to destroy every single person in Holyoake for what they want to do to Becky.
As Hallie slips from the crowd, she recognises that they may claim to be doing it for their Goddess, but really they want the show, the torture, to hear the cries of pain, to see the suffering. It’s a great, if brief, insight into the darkness and evil that lurks inside every single person, that mobs can so easily drag out.
They break into the shed and steal the fire truck, because Hallie is an absolute badass. And then Adam hotwires it, because he is also pretty great. And back to Hallie, who is driving a manual for the first damn time. No pressure or anything, you amazing woman you. She’s kind of horrible at it, too, but at least she doesn’t kill it (which was my problem when I first learned; taking off in first was a hard thing, though all the rest of the gears I managed fine). It’s kind of hilarious, actually, because it’s bucking and jerking and the boys on the back are in for a wild ride.
Hallie drives straight into the fucking crowd, because Hallie is, sing along if you know the words, an absolute badass. The elders start the fire as people run away, and then Hallie drives into the fucking pyre. Goddamn, woman. She then reverses quickly, afraid the fire will set her gas tank aflame, and runs over some of the elders. Oh my god, I love her so much.
Adam and Simon use the hose to knock people away and stop the fire, Adam rescues Becky and hauls her to the truck, the boys go back to hitting people with water, and Hallie frantically tries to drive away. A bolt of lightning nearly hits the church as they flee AND THEN ONE HITS THE HOLY OAK, SPLITTING ITS TRUNK, KILLING THE PEOPLE HUDDLED UNDER ITS BRANCHES AND SETTING IT ON FIRE.
THIS IS THE BEST FUCKING ENDING EVER.
The whole of Holyoake seems to be going up in flames because there’s so much dry wood everywhere, and Adam jokes with Simon about them having the only fire truck.
Hallie really has the feel for plowing through things now, because she runs down the barricade, too. It’s about that time that Becky finally wakes the fuck up, clear eyed and clear headed. (Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.)
She then freaks out a little, because Hallie doesn’t know how to drive a stick, she might get a ticket. Hallie finds that hysterical.
And then we get this: Behind them, a red glow lit up the sky. The town of Holyoake had just become its own burnt sacrifice.
Holy shit, y’all, I love it just as much now as baby!Wing did back then. It’s such a satisfying ending, I love summer king/wicker man/burnt offering type stories, and the three main characters in this were delightful throughout. (Even Simon turned out to not be too terrible.)
Hallie, of course, is the absolute fucking best, and I would read a hundred books about her.
I’m so glad I didn’t read Class Trip first, or I would have never made it to this one, and this one is amazing. I already want to read it again. A++ do recommend.