By Frazer Lee
Published by Flame Tree Press
Flame Tree has turned me onto many great authors over the last two years, so I’m always eager to read one of their new releases. While Greyfriars Reformatory isn’t a homerun, it does introduce me to an author I would like to read more from in the future.
This story is about Emily and several other girls that have been sent to an experimental institution run by one woman who calls all the shots: Principal Quick. She is strict and heartless. But worse than Quick is the creepy girl watching from the clocktower; not only does she supposedly not exist, she’s soon terrifying every one of the inmates with their heinous pasts.
Honestly, this story would have done better as a movie. What psychological terror Lee could have utilized to his advantage was held back for whatever reason; instead, he favored jump scares and generic horror tropes (the ghost girl walks like a spider at times, she has long hair that covers her face, her joints click in erratic movements, etc.). I had no problem imagining it at all in my head as a movie – and that was great, really – but as a book, I frequently felt cheated by the moves being made. When I saw that Lee is a filmmaker as well, the ways of the book made so much more sense to me. Again, if Greyfriars Reformatory was a movie, I think it would be an exciting ride worth taking every October.
There was also a problem with the ending – I didn’t quite understand it. I turned to my friend for her opinion and learned she was also confused. Lee makes a point to repeat the opening chapter – in which she describes herself as an “unreliable narrator” – like that was supposed to explain it all, but I just kept searching for new lines that I couldn’t find. As a result, I’m not entirely sure what really happened. This novel was already on the shorter side without that repeated section, which leads me to wonder if Greyfriars Reformatory was actually a novella in the beginning. It may have worked better that way. But personally, I would have preferred more psychological terror to increase its girth and give it more depth.
Despite my complaints, I can see how Greyfriars Reformatory would entice and thrill readers that are looking for an easy piece of horror. There are some good backstories here, so Lee did a good job with the design of his characters. I genuinely liked them or what they represented. I also enjoyed the writing and story enough to put this author on my radar for future reading. I’ve held onto Hearthstone Cottage for the past year, but now I’ll be moving it up my TBR list.
Review by Aiden Merchant
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