*This review will contain spoilers!*
‘The girls were playing with the Frozen Charlotte dolls again.’
The novel begins in the year 1910, at a schoolhouse on the Isle of Skye. Martha, who has been recently blinded, is refusing to play with the other girls. She believes she was blinded by the Frozen Charlotte dolls which they adore, dolls who tell the girls how much they like being dead.
Sophie’s best friend, Jay, downloads a Ouija board app on his phone, and they decide to give it a go. Sophie suggests contacting Rebecca, her sort-of cousin who died when they were younger. They joke around, mocking the app, until Jay asks when he’s going to die, and he’s told, “Tonight”.
Moments later, the cafe where they’re eating plunges into darkness. The Ouija board starts counting down to something, and when the clock strikes one a ear-piercing scream comes from the kitchen. While Sophie looks around the cafe in panic, her eye is caught by a little girl in a nightdress standing on a table.
A little girl who looks exactly like her dead cousin, Rebecca.
When the lights come back on, the girl disappears. Sophie asks Jay if he saw her, but he thinks she’s just winding him up. The screams came from a waitress who fell in the darkness, getting burnt by the deep-fat fryer. The waitress is taken to hospital and the cafe patrons head home, but Jay never makes it. He somehow falls into the canal while cycling home, where he drowns.
Sophie’s parents send her to visit family on the Isle of Skye to help her deal with her grief. But when she gets there, it’s obvious all isn’t right with the family. Tensions are high between Piper and Cameron, and Lilias – the youngest child – has a fear of bones which has caused her to attempt to cut her skeleton out in the past. Combine that with Dark Tom, a parrot who literally screams bloody murder, and the creepy dolls filling the cabinet in Rebecca’s old room, and Sophie can’t wait to go home.
But she needs to solve the mystery of Jay’s death, and she’s certain that Rebecca had something to do with it…
At the beginning, ‘Frozen Charlotte’ is gripping. The first two hundred pages froze me in place, making it physically impossible to put the book down. The enigma is established with ease (even if some of the foreshadowing is corny as hell) and I felt compelled to know what happened.
The setting is deliciously creepy. Sophie’s family live in the old schoolhouse, which is still filled with remnants of its past. The windows are sealed shut due to one of the schoolchildren falling to her death. The stage where assemblies were held is still in the dining room. Pictures of the last class decorate the walls of the house. It’s all ominously spooky, bringing the best horror elements together: the eerieness of something happening in a family home combined with the shiver-inducing abandoned building vibe. Add to that the location itself: the Isle of Skye, the house in the middle of nowhere… It’s so promising.
The characters are intriguing, which makes you even more interested in what’s going on. Piper and Cameron can’t resist telling Sophie tales about each other, and it’s impossible to guess who’s lying. Meanwhile, Lilias’ fear of bones is fascinating. I’d never heard of such a fear before, but the young girl being terrified of her own body is heartbreaking. The background characters are underwhelming – Uncle James purely paints, while Sophie’s parents are bland and forgettable – but the dynamics between the key players makes up for that.
But things go rather downhill. The ending is rushed, meaning it doesn’t have much impact. Turns out Piper’s a massive psychopath who’s been playing everyone, but instead of getting her comeuppance she dies in a fire. It’s disappointing: killing off the bad guy is easy. It’s also hinted that Sophie and Cameron become a couple, which is weird… They’re cousins!
Something about YA horror just doesn’t agree with me. I can’t seem to be able to find a book that stays consistently chilling throughout. I’m a huge horror fan, which makes this a problem for me.
That being said, ‘Frozen Charlotte’ is a lot better than other YA horror I’ve read in the past. The concept of the Frozen Charlottes is chilling, and as someone who already disliked dolls, this has stamped a huge NO across them forever. The epilogue makes a sequel possible, with a little girl finding the Charlottes that Sophie disposed of, but I hope this stays as a standalone because it makes it more effective.
I’m definitely going to read more of Alex Bell’s work in the future.