Book Review

R.L Stine Retrospective – Part 1: The Sign of Fear

I love to revisit nostalgic reads I enjoyed as a kid and teen. Some, I continue to love throughout the years (Blood and Chocolate & The Witch of Blackbird Pond) and others don’t hold up so well (sorry, Artemis Foul Fowl). Recently, I embarked on a quest to re-read two childhood R.L. Stine favorites of mine (aside from basically the entire Goosebumps series) and try out his debut adult novel.

I’ve only read two of Stine’s Fear Street Saga books – and I’ve read them both many, many times, though not recently. I’m not sure what possessed me to pick these up again, other than that I knew they’d be quick reads. While it was entertaining to scoff at how ridiculous the stories are, I sadly found neither stood the test of time.

So I present to you another series of ranting, rambling commentary, rife with spoilers. You’ve been warned. Also sorry this is so long – I had a lot of thoughts and this was the result after heavy editing.

Fear Street Sagas # 4: The Sign of Fear by R.L. Stine Cameron Dokey!?
My Edition: Paperback – 151 pages – 1996 – Pocket Books – ISBN: 0671002910


Before we can even get started, I’m shook (that’s what the kids are saying, right?) because I had NO IDEA this piece of crap wasn’t even written by R.L. Stine. Is this common knowledge? Am I an idiot for never noticing the copyright credit is for another author? Cameron Dokey, of all people, which makes this more disappointing because I enjoy her work. Is this a conspiracy!?

I can’t find any confirmation of this, other than Dokey’s wiki page which credits her for 4 published Fear Street Saga books and the fact that HER NAME IS INSIDE THIS BOOK. There are some articles speculating on whether he had help with his Goosebumps series too. I feel lied to! Ghostwriting is a topic for another day, but I feel like if you do that, your name doesn’t get to go on the cover, at least not without credit to the person who actually did the writing! It’s deceitful.

Ugh. Anyway.

This is a tale about a cursed amulet and the young man searching for it. He comes from a long line of cursed men, who are all desperate for the amulet and the supposed power it grants. I’m not really sure what that power is, but, who cares, right? Enter Christina, a helpless girl who everyone is cruel to because all good adventures need a pretty lady in peril – even 150-page ones. She finds the amulet and it’s “power” may destroy her!

The scene opens with Christina, Our Heroine, a teenager in 1679 Massachusetts Bay Colony, at her father’s funeral with her evil aunt who totally hates her. The action starts right off the bat, with a flock of crows attacking the funeral and Christina falling into her father’s grave. Spoopy! She wakes up back at home and overhears her aunt talking to someone. Christina thinks her aunt hired someone to murder her, so she hurls a chair through her bedroom window and makes a run for it. But Aunt Jane is quick on her feet and yanks Christina back through the window, shards of glass stabbing into her stomach.

No worries though – not only is the wound not fatal, it doesn’t even require a bandage. Christina kicks her aunt in the throat (holy shit) and flees out the window. She disappears into the woods and busts her ankle, except not really. Our Heroine is virtually indestructible!

Then we get flashbacks about how the Fier family curses begins, starting in the year 50 in “The Old World, Britain.” We meet Fieran, a Celtic spell-caster (which is debatable because I think he manages to go the whole book without casting a single spell) who just killed a Roman leader in battle. Fieran takes the Dead Roman Head home to burn off all the flesh because that’s how you get more magic, apparently. He needs to defeat his clan nemesis, Conn, and win his girl, Brianna. Initially, I imagined these guys in their mid-20s, but they act like 16-year-old boys, so idk.

Basically, Fieran and Conn are having a pissing contest to see who will lead the clan. Conn wins and it turns out Brianna helped him, because she’s pretty powerful. Conn banishes Fieran and Fieran jams his fingers into the glowing eye sockets of the skull and then passes out (for like the third time). Readers are left to ponder his fate while the story jumps back to Our Heroine.

Christina is lost in the woods then rescued by a handsome boy, Matthew. He gallantly takes her to a nearby farm and on the way she naturally wonders if he’s her soul mate because he’s warm and cozy on this cold, rainy night. At the farm, Christina finds Aunt Jane didn’t hire anyone to murder her – Jane sold Christina to the Petersons to be their servant.

Christina doesn’t want to stay with the Petersons, but given she’s their actual property now, she has no choice. Matthew reveals to her that he’s on a quest to locate a lost family heirloom and he can’t stop searching right now. But, he says, if Christina, a girl he literally just met and doesn’t know from a hole in the wall, can wait for him, he’ll return for her after he completes his quest. Christina tells herself she loves him and will do so until she dies. SO ROMANCE.

Christina gets sent to her room so Emily Peterson can make googly eyes at Matthew. She brakes a pitcher, cuts her hands, cries for Matthew and Emily squeezes the blood from Christina’s palms and runs off with it. Despite the blatant display of insanity, Matthew notices nothing because that’s how real life works. He bandages Christina’s hands (which never bother her again) and takes off and then Mrs. Peterson chucks Christina in the cellar for the night.

Christina settles into her life of servitude until a day when Mrs. Peterson and Emily are out in the village. She decides to investigate Emily’s room. Good thing Emily doesn’t lock her door, even though she’s caught Christina snooping in the past. We soon find out Emily practices some sort of evil magic, so even if she can’t afford a lock, couldn’t she find a spell to do the same thing? She finds a bunch of vials of blood and other evil, gross stuff and then can’t get out because now the door can lock by magic. While she struggles, the pendant (oh yeah, she’s had it since her fall in the woods) gets hot so she looks at it and reads the Latin inscription which says ‘power through evil.’

Back to our buddy Fieran! Now that Fieran has toasted his Dead Roman Head, its eyes glow and it asks Fieran what he wants. Fieran wants the power of revenge – no need to be more specific or anything, buddy – and to gain it, Dead Roman Head gives him the amulet and demands a blood sacrifice. Dead Roman Head also says that as long as Fieran’s family lasts, so will the amulet and so will the power of their revenge. I’m still lost as to what “the power” of their revenge is and why it would need to last through the generations or how that’s beneficial.

We do get about 0.2 seconds of depth from Fieran while he thinks about how he’s never killed outside of survival/battle and hates the idea. But then he thinks about how Conn is a big meanie and, bam, he’s ready to murder the shit outta him. Fieran spies on Conn and we learn, thanks to villainous monologuing, that Brianna and Conn worked together using Brianna’s powers. Finn gets Conn alone, starts a fight and gets his ass handed to him. When Conn is choking the life out of Fieran, an earthquake starts and Conn is so scared he allows himself to be crushed to death by a rock.

Fieran had apparently intended to kill Conn himself and use the blood as a sacrifice for Dead Roman Head, but now he can’t because he didn’t actually do a murder. Brianna comes out of hiding and explains it was she who moved the stones and killed Conn. Wow, someone with actual powers! She said she was worried Fieran’s power wouldn’t be enough – I don’t think Fieran has any power!

Anyway, Brianna explains she was playing Conn to keep him from murdering Fieran. Fieran buys that, they get married the same day and spend the night together in his cave with Dead Roman Head. Sexy! Later she feeds him some cheesy line about loving him until he dies and he realizes she fed the same bullshit to Conn.

At this point, Christina wakes up. She’s suddenly thirsty for revenge and knows the amulet will help her get it. Finally, she’s grown a backbone! She starts by pulling down all Emily’s shelves and smashing everything in sight. Then she decides to go back for her dear old Aunt Jane. The next scene starts with her outside, so I guess her sudden rage made the door magically unlock itself.

She finds Aunt Jane baking pies in the yard. When Revenge Christina confronts Jane, the pie bubbles and spills massive amounts of scalding juice all over Jane’s hands. The juice eats through her skin and when she drops the pie, the juice spills down her dress and burns through that and more of her skin. Jane screams bloody murder while Revenge Christina watches as her aunt basically melts – bone is already showing through her cheeks. As Jane tries to scream, pie juice squirts into her mouth and scalds her throat. It’s not noted that Jane fell over, but it is noted that she dropped the pie, so I pictured like a 4+ foot tall jet of pie juice spouting like a fountain. It was pretty comical. Anyway, Jane’s dead now.

Christina runs away and finds Matthew nearby – don’t worry, he didn’t hear any of Aunt Jane’s cries for help because that would make sense. He’s all amped up because he felt a “burst of power” from his mysterious family heirloom and followed it. Because that’s not a weird thing to say to someone who you think doesn’t know the object you seek is in any way magical.

The two smooch and Christina thinks to herself that already her memory of Jane’s death is fading. She wonders if this lack of remorse is caused by the pendant, but even that seems extreme. If the pendant is built for revenge, wouldn’t she still be basking in glory? But she’s too busy thinking about how much she loves Matthew. They decide to go back to the Peterson’s since Matthew can’t feel the heirloom anymore.

When they arrive at the Peterson house, Emily immediately freaks out and tries to attack Christina. Christina hides behind Matthew’s horse and Emily BITES THE HORSE. Matthew is dragged away and Emily drags Christina into the house. I guess Revenge Christina is gone now. Inside the house, Emily screams that she needs Christina’s blood to maintain her beauty. Apparently, she isn’t joking, because her looks immediately deteriorate. Her teeth fall out, she becomes wrinkly, old and hunch-backed, and we find out that Mrs. Peterson is actually Emily’s daughter. Matthew comes to the rescue again just as Emily starts attacking Christina. In the scuffle, Christina’s amulet is revealed and Matthew realizes that’s what he’s been looking for.

And now we come back to Fieran’s final chapters. He must have his revenge against Brianna and give a sacrifice to Dead Roman Head. Rather than murder her while she sleeps, Fieran wakes Brianna and tells her they need to complete a ceremony to share the power of Dead Roman Head. Fieran slices his hand for the ceremony and moves as though to cut Brianna’s, but then raises the knife high and starts hollering about his revenge.

But Brianna isn’t a stupid asshole like Fieran, so she blocks him and basically tells him he’s a stupid asshole. She reveals she used both men for more power (I’m still vague on what powers she has, but I guess I have to let that go) and states the obvious: Fieran is weak. Then she stabs him in the chest. She takes his amulet and uses his blood for the sacrifice. Fieran tells her the power won’t last long, because it only lives while his family lives. Jokes on him because Brianna (somehow) knows she’s pregnant with a boy (conveniently, after one night together) and that the power will live on. Fieran dies. Bye Felicia Fieran!

Back to Our Heroine – Matthew is pissed because he thinks Christina was hiding the amulet and Emily is babbling about wanting the pretty, shiny bauble. Christina panics, the amulet grows hot and candles explode, setting the whole damn house on fire. Emily and Mrs. Peterson go up like torches while Christina and Matthew are separated by a wall of fire. Matthew eventually charges through and Christina thinks it’s to save her ass, but he yanks the amulet off her neck first.

The house is burning down around them, but they’re having a casual convo. Matthew explains he thought he loved her, but it was really just the pull of the amulet. He declares he never loved her – finally, someone talking sense! – and straight up leaves Christina to burn alive. She gets trapped under a beam, but for once, gets herself out of trouble. She escapes and watches Matthew ride away. She bemoans the curse that has fallen upon Matthew because of the amulet and thinks about how he’ll never know happiness and love now, because he traded his soul for power. STILL NOT SURE WHAT POWER. Unlike Matthew, Christina didn’t see the light – she still thinks she loved Matthew, a boy she spoke to for a collective 10 minutes.

I, however, have been freed of the amulet’s curse and I now see what a pile of shit this book is. What irks me – aside from the deception of Dokey masquerading as Stine – is that this book could have been fun. There’s plenty of potential for drama and room for spooky elements, if only anyone had cared about…well…anything! I could go on, but I’ve said more than enough. If it’s not already blatantly obvious, I won’t be re-reading this book ever again.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

*cat image found here – face image found here – hand image found here

8 thoughts on “R.L Stine Retrospective – Part 1: The Sign of Fear”

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