Title: Spellbound by Christopher Pike
Summary: No one knew how the girl had died.
They found Karen Holly in the mountain stream, her skull crushed. There was only one witness to the tragedy, Karen’s boyfriend, Jason Whitfield. He said a grizzly had killed her. But a lot of people didn’t believe him. They thought Jason had murdered her in a fit of rage.
And now weeks have passed, and Jason has another girlfriend, Cindy Jones. And there are the new kids in town, Joni Harper, the quiet English beauty that Cindy’s brother, Alex, cannot get out of his mind. And Bala, the foreign exchange student from Africa, the grandson of a powerful shaman.
Together they will return to the place where Karen was killed.
Some will die.
The others will come face to face with a horror beyond imagining.
Tagline: You can close your eyes….It won’t help. [Wing: Except, spoilers, that’s exactly what it does.]
This is one of my favourite Pike books, though not my absolute favourite. There are monstrous women and full moons and hunger, and it is all pretty great — except for that girls fighting over boys and boys fighting over girls and racism everywhere. /o\
Cindy Jones loves where she lives in the mountains of Timber, Wyoming. She reads a newspaper article about how Karen Holly really died, which gives us a good look at how Karen went alone up the mountain with Jason, how Ray told a story about how Jason picked on him at the movie theater before they went up the mountain, how Jason claims it was a grizzly bear and he tried to save her but the bear hit him, too, and how people seem to doubt his story and, perhaps, think he killed her. Karen’s head was bashed in, her ribs were broken, and she was covered in deep scratches, though none of it really looked like the kind of thing a grizzly would have done.
(Both the coroner and the lead detective tell the reporter a ton of details about an ongoing investigation, which knocks me out of the story each time it happens, no matter how I push my suspension of disbelief.)
Cindy isn’t convinced, at least in part, because she’s Jason’s new girlfriend, and she doesn’t want to believe that he would do something like that, she doesn’t think he has a temper or could possibly hurt anyone.
She and her younger brother Alex are delightfully close, great siblings, and she’s encouraging him to ask out new girl, Joni, who has drawn his interest since the very first moment she arrived in their small town. He’s awkward, but super sweet about things.
Alex and Ray are both on the cross-country team, and they both like Joni, even though Ray only recently broke up with Pam, who was Karen’s cousin and is Cindy’s best friend. (Later we learn that Ray and Karen also dated for awhile, which is so true for a small town, the way people date their bff’s cousin or ex or sister or whatever.) Ray is pretty cool, actually, even setting it up so that it’s clear he will back off if Alex asks him to leave Joni alone, but Alex refuses to do that, so.
Ray asks Joni to come watch their race, she demurs at first, but when Alex then asks her to go to the football game with him after, she says she’d rather come watch his race.
During class, Bala tells a story about his grandfather, the shaman, hypnotising people into the bodies of animals and vice versa and how he would do this to a little boy back at their village. (Clearly, the little boy is Bala.) Bala is very dismissive of his tribe’s beliefs, and this all comes across very much as the noble savage coming into the enlightened white world. Cooooool. Not racist at all.
Alex stays in second place throughout most of the race, behind a competitor from the other team, even though the pace is high and he’s worried about burning out before the end of the race. Eventually, he takes the lead, but literally runs into a couple of cheerleaders painting a banner in the middle of the race route. He falls, tears up his knee, and uses it as an excuse to slow down even though he’s still in the lead at that point. Ray and the other guy pass him, and when Alex sees Joni, he kicks back into fast racing, but he only manages to come in second after Ray.
Joni talks to him after the race and tells him that he seems to do better when he’s chasing instead of being chased, when he’s the hunter and not the prey. I love Joni quite a bit right now.
(When Alex gives in and lets Cindy take him to the emergency room to have his knee checked, they decide not to use their insurance so they won’t have to tell their parents, and they only have to pay $150 for the visit. That is exceptionally low, and I do not believe it for one second. Thanks, USA healthcare.)
After the football game, the whole lot of them go hiking up to the falls where Karen was killed, because that’s 100% what I’d want to do on some sort of weird group date. Cindy takes Wolf, her mostly an actual wolf dog who is super protective of her and well trained. (They also have an ancient, blind parrot who refuses to ever use Cindy’s name. Will a blind parrot who never says her name come in useful later? I bet it will.) She also takes a rifle big enough that Jason teases her she’ll break her shoulder if she ever tries to shoot it. She’s an excellent shot, though; she grew up literally shooting at the moon, which her dad used to tell her was the only safe target, but also did target shooting. I really like Cindy.
Weird nighttime hike to murder clearing roll call: Cindy and Jason; Alex and Joni; Ray, Pam, and Bala; and Wolf.
Cindy is kind of dissatisfied with her life as a whole, mostly because she’s realised that nothing will change when she graduates; she’s not going to college because school’s not for her, and she really hopes that aliens come to take her away because nothing else in this world seems for her, either. I kind of love Cindy.
There’s some snarking back and forth on the hike, but things quiet down when they get up to the place where Karen died. Cindy wants to turn back, but Jason is adamant he wants to show them all a cave he likes. Your obsession with keeping them around the place where your last girlfriend died (and people think you are lying about at least some of the details) is looking a little weird.
(In the middle of all of this, Jason decides to fire Cindy’s gun because the acoustics up there are great, but that makes Wolf attack; he always goes wild when a gun goes off. He nearly tears out Jason’s throat, savages his arm, tries to force him over the edge of the cliff, and refuses to listen to Cindy’s commands, but Bala, of course, has a way with him. I get what Pike is doing here, because Bala was the kid who had the animals inside, but it also reads as that whole noble savage/natives are closer to nature/natives are more animalistic racist trope.)
Cindy’s confident in her hiking (even though she prefers leather basketball shoes to hiking boots because they are more flexible and have a better grip, which I do not for an instant believe), but slips when crossing some rocks and falls into the water. Everyone rushes to try to save her in different ways. The biggest: Cindy tries to swim for shore, but the water is cold enough that her limbs start to go numb immediately; Alex dives in after her but can’t get across the roughest part in the middle of the river; Jason hangs down from a branch trying to grab her and pull her out; and Bala cliff jumps down to save her and hauls her out of the water and back up some of the cliff face. Okay then.
They all split up back at the cars. Pam and Bala head back to their house (Bala is staying with her family); Ray takes off on his own, I assume; Jason drives Cindy back to his house; and Alex takes Joni back to his house.
Alex and Joni kiss a little bit, but then Joni says that what they’re doing is dangerous and she can’t stay. Mysterious and, of course, just makes Alex all the more interested in her.
Jason gets Cindy into a warm robe while he dries her wet clothes, they make out a little, and then he loses his temper with her when she refuses to have sex. Pretty sure you should be keeping a tight grip on that temper while you’re still being investigated for the murder of your last girlfriend.
(There’s a thread throughout the book that Bala rejects his people and their superstitions and loves the USA for its focus on logic and reason, which (a) is pretty racist, Pike, and (b) oh god, the USA has so little logic and reason, it’s all emotions and religion around here.)
Things we learn about Joni in the lead-up to the hike and the aftermath: Joni lives with her aunt because both her parents died in two different accidents, her brother still lives in England, she used to be a great student but now all her classwork and notes are a mess, and she can hike up a mountain barefoot with no problem at all.
Alex starts having dreams about a river of blood, flying predators, and an unending hunger. During his next cross country race, he takes Joni’s advice, settles back into the group, and then chases down the leaders (including Ray), and beats them handily. Looks like someone works best as a predator. I’m shocked.
Even though Alex and Joni had that nice little moment after the hike, Joni starts avoiding Alex, skipping school, and talking more to Ray. Alex and Ray argue over her, and Ray says even knowing that Alex is mad, he can’t back off now, it’s like she’s put a spell over him. This fight is, of course, the last time Alex sees him alive.
Ray turns up dead, mauled quite like Karen was, and of course, there’s some talk of whether Jason hurt him, because Ray spoke out against him in that article.
Cindy is asked to speak on Jason’s behalf at the hearing; Jason, his family, and their attorney think that Cindy is there to be a good character witness, but he’s shown her his darker side, and she pretty much throws him under the bus regarding his anger and potential for violence, which surprises everyone (that she would flat come out and say it). Mostly this comes from her going back up the mountain to look at the branch where Jason tried to save her and the spot where she slipped — sure enough, the branch is reinforced with a rope and the rock where she slipped was oiled.
SHOCKING, I KNOW, but Jason set the whole thing up so he could look like a hero.
The newspaper reporter is the one who breaks the news of Ray’s death to Cindy, because (a) he continues to be far more informed about ongoing investigations than he should be, and (b) god, he’s an asshole, using all the information he has to get a rise out of people. Which is what a lot of people do, but that doesn’t make him not an asshole.
When Bala learns about Ray, he clearly suspects Joni and takes off to confront her. They, too, go up the mountain, though they’re not in the same place at the same time as Cindy during her explorations.
Alex is worried about Joni, so goes looking for her (after he takes Pam home because Pam has, understandably, broken down over Ray’s death); when he talks to her aunt, her aunt drops some gross racist bullshit about not wanting Joni around those black fellows because she’s had trouble with them before. Now, this is setting up for Joni and Bala having history, obviously, but it’s also written in a super racist Save the White Woman from the Violent Black Man bullshit way.
Bala is in the hospital after an animal attack, and no one can find Alex. Cindy goes to the hospital to be with Pam and Bala, and though Joni lies about it when she talks to Cindy, Alex is with Joni. They go up the mountain, Joni tries to devour him like she has all the others, he leaps into the water to escape her but she grabs him from a branch (much more effectively than when Jason tried it earlier), and we’re left with a cliffhanger. Since it’s not been abused, it’s not a needlessly dramatic cliffhanger chapter ending. Way to avoid the Stine curse, Pike.
Over at the hospital, Bala tells Cindy about what he saw back with his grandfather, who put a vulture into Joni’s body and Joni into a vulture, though he had always refused to use vultures before. Joni-in-the-vulture freaked out, broke free, and flew off to find her parents, who killed her thinking she was a bird attacking them; the vulture-in-Joni remained alive and inhuman.
(I love stories about women who hunger, literal hunger and sex hunger and rage hunger, and how people fear hungry women, especially those who take what they want.)
Vulture-in-Joni killed both her parents (at different times), and her brother was blamed for at least one of the deaths, so he’s not just “still living in England” but is locked up.
Cindy manipulates Joni into meeting her up the mountain, because everything is going to take place up the mountain under the full moon but I am never going to get werewolves, thanks a lot, Pike. (Still, it’s pretty great.)
Cindy takes Wolf, the parrot, and the gun up the mountain with her and takes a different path so she can sneak up on Joni. At one point, she has the perfect chance to shoot Joni in the back, but she, like Bala, can’t bring herself to do it. On the one hand, this makes sense, but on the other hand, when something monstrous is slaughtering people, especially people you love, perhaps it is the time to shoot from the back instead of attacking head on when odds are high you will lose. (Even though Joni can’t actually eat Cindy the way she does the others because she can only eat the humanity from people who love her.)
Joni and Cindy talk, Joni hypnotises her such that Cindy can see all the lives, Joni-the-human’s life in England, Joni-the-vulture’s life as a vulture, and Cindy’s life; in all of them, she can see the moon, and the craters in it, and that sliver of awareness is enough to break her free.
Cindy shoots at the moon, which, of course, sends Wolf into a frenzy and leaves Joni stuck in the middle of two bad choices. If she takes the time to kill Wolf, Cindy will shoot her; if she kills Cindy first, Wolf will kill her.
Thanks to Bala, Cindy knows that Joni has learned to leave her own body without needing to be hypnotised. She’s intentionally set up this situation so that the vulture will flee Joni’s body, and Cindy has left only one option. (… I’ll come back to this.) The vulture leaves Joni’s body and enters the blind parrot’s body, which is exactly what Cindy wanted, because the transfer takes eye contact, and once the vulture is inside, it can’t get back out because the parrot is blind, so now Joni is trapped and they are safe.
And so is Alex! Who was not killed by Joni; instead, she gave him a piece of herself and when he went over the edge of the waterfall, he fell slower than he should have and didn’t die at the bottom (though he did break his leg, despite somehow walking on it back up the mountain).
Bala goes back to his home to learn more from his grandfather, but not before he and Cindy kiss and admit their attraction for each other and Cindy demands that he come back to her at some point because she’s not ready to give him up.
Cindy keeps the parrot in her room, now, and the parrot sometimes says her name, even though it never would before. Cindy worries about the vulture in the parrot, which is why she won’t let it be far from her sight, and she worries that the parrot is not fully blind. However, she won’t kill the parrot because of that moment when Joni did not kill her brother and, instead, told him she loved him and gave him a piece of herself, which is such a human thing to do that Cindy can’t bring herself to kill the parrot.
Even though she worries.
Even though the parrot seems to watch her sometimes.
Even though the parrot calls her name.
This book is ridiculous and wonderful and one of my favourite Christopher Pike books. The atmosphere is great, Cindy is fun, entertaining protagonist, Joni is creepy and perfect, and the story itself is fantastic. The racism needs to go, and I could do with a lot less fighting over people (though at least it is equal opportunity fighting), but otherwise this is delightful.
…except for that whole flaw in Cindy’s plan. She puts Joni in a position where she has to leave her body or die and gives her only two options, Cindy herself or the blind parrot, and when Cindy feels Joni leave her body, she closes her eyes.
You know who else is there? Wolf. You know who wouldn’t know to close his eyes? Wolf. You know who would be a terrible vessel for the vulture? GOD DAMN WOLF. What the fuck, Pike. That is a pretty big thing to leave floating out there.