Release Date: May 20, 2014
***I received this eARC in exchange for an honest review via Netgalley and The Studio, a Paper Lantern Lit imprint.
Dollhouse is a sinister and twisted read that will haunt your dreams and star in your nightmares. It’s a surrealist funhouse, complete with humans used like marionettes, gigantic, vicious dolls, and a carnivalesque sense of the magical and unreal. Dollhouse is the sort of book that compels you to sleep with the lights on and mistrust the shadows, to dart your eyes around the room, suddenly suspicious and uncertain of your surroundings. Eerie, mysterious, and creepy at its core, Dollhouse is horror at its finest.
Sometimes I wished I could stare down the tube of a kaleidoscope and rearrange the pieces of Ethan and me, and out of every future possibility, find a pattern-a world-in which we fit together.
And just like that, the fear that I had always carried with me, that blind terror of darkness, began to bleed away. There were worse things-things thousands of times worse-than darkness. There was being a small child on a dark road, in the grip of a terrifying accident. There was the loss of someone I had loved-a loss so total, I couldn’t even remember it.
Dress-up turns deadly. . .
When Cassie’s best friend, Aisha, disappears during a school hike, Cassie sets off with Aisha’s boyfriend Ethan and their best friend Lacey, determined to find her. But the mist-enshrouded mountains hold many secrets, and what the three teens discover is far more disturbing than any of them imagined: beneath a rundown mansion in the woods lies an underground cavern full of life-size toys and kidnapped girls forced to dress as dolls.
Even as Cassie desperately tries to escape the Dollhouse, she finds herself torn between her forbidden feelings for Ethan, and her intense, instinctive attraction to The Provider, a man Cassie swears she has known before…
Because Cassie’s capture wasn’t accidental, and the Dollhouse is more than just a prison where her deepest fears come true—it’s a portal for the powers of darkness. And Cassie may be the only one who can stop it.
***The Goodreads blurb is a little exaggerated and not entirely correct.
While hiking in the woods for a school project, Cassie, Ethan, Aisha, and Lacey never expected that one of them would end up missing. Desperate to capture artistic pictures worthy of acclaim for their assignment, Aisha pushes forward into the woods, off the familiar path, and into the unknown followed wearily by her friends. The teens stumble upon a gigantic mansion, nestled snuggly in the middle of the woods. Cassie is struck by chilling déjà vu. She’s seen this mansion before but has never been to the woods. Disturbed and unsettled by the way the darkness seems to cling to the walls, Cassie begs her friends to cut their exploration short and head back towards the path. Before they know it, bickering turns into full on accusations about the glances between Cassie and Ethan and Aisha runs away from the group, angry and upset. When Ethan goes after her, he comes back after a while with no clue where she disappeared to. Distraught, the rest of the group screams for Aisha but only silence answers back.
Weeks pass, Cassie, Lacey, and Ethan attempt to lead normal lives but are constantly accosted by stares and whispers in the hallways. Unable to cope, as the days pass by, Cassie and her friends embark on a rescue mission, searching the woods one last time, hoping to find something the cops might have missed. Thoughts keep returning to the mansion and as the teens retrace their steps, they become convinced that something isn’t right about that place and that clues about Aisha’s disappearance might just be inside.
Curious and perturbed, the teens inspect the mansion and quickly discover that nothing is quite what it seems. Hidden doorways, unexplainable movements, and stairways that descend deep underground bewilder and shock the teens. When they find one of Aisha’s belongings, they muster up the courage to dig deeper, sure that somewhere within this labyrinth of a house, Aisha is cold, alone, lost, and scared. They never imagined that the truth was something far more insidious.
LIfe sized dolls act as wardens of a horrendous prison. Trapped and half crazed, Cassie and co. must pretend to submit, giving in to the insane whims of a fanatical girl with superhuman powers, or else face certain punishment. Secrets so vile and twisted destroy all hope as the situation gets more and more dire. With no escape in sight and talk of a mysterious Provider, Cassie must scramble to save her friends, uncover the truth, and beat their captors at their own game before it’s too late.
- The story is downright spooky. The descriptions are a perfect blend of macabre and perversion. They get under your skin. The sheer ingenuity and repulsive attributes of this surreal and bizarre Dollhouse are meticulous. Anya Allyn takes the most innocent of toys and turns them into sadistic tools of madness and suffering. You will never look at teddy bears, dolls, or clowns the same again.
- A twist so mind-blowing you’ll have to do a double take of the big reveal to make sure you read it right.
- The ending breaks and mangles emotions as a gut wrenching and explosive decision results in unprecedented and overwhelming loss. The feels consume and strangle, eating away at any residual hope for a happy ending.
- Jessamine is terrifying. Her quiet control is sociopathic and possessive to the point of insanity. She’s more than unhinged she’s suffocating. Her desperation to love and keep order, her inability to feel true emotions, and her off way of speaking adds an ominous vibe to the story. Her connection to the dolls as mistress, her insistence on keeping up appearances, force feeding, and psychologically damning punishments are enough to shake anyone. Her excursions into the unknown, random appearances, and secrecy enforce this idea of the unexpected, any minute she can pop up from the shadows, ever watchful, ever waiting.
- The story of the house is an elaborate concoction that combines magic, murder, mythology, and a little circus freak action. The combination is an uncanny and obtuse riddle that is hard to decipher and heightens the overall anticipation and thrill of discovery.
- The “dolls” are beautifully crafted glimpses into the human psyche. Each girl is unique, bringing something power and heartbreaking to the story. Their imprisonment, the loss of their childhood, and their collapse into themselves is achingly sad.
- Ethan is a mystifying character. Constantly cryptic and eager to hide his inner most thoughts, you never know if he can be trusted or what he’s truly feeling. Plus there’s a sneaking suspicion that somehow he’s instrumental to their abduction and a piece of the puzzle that sheds light on their captor’s intentions. Ethan is what you would call smudgy, the kind of character that’s cloaked in darkness and ambivalence.
- Cassie is an honest, thoughtful girl who fights hard to solve what seems like impossible problems. Despite disgusting treatment by her friend, she’s forgiving, open-hearted, and never gives in, through the darkness she’s always searching for light. As a protagonist, Cassie is crafted and real, she speaks her mind and sorts out her feelings while staying focused on the ultimate goal, escape. What’s more striking is how she overcomes her fears and learns about herself.
- The carnival scenes, the masquerade, and the peculiar role of the adults reads like a disquieting game of hide and seek where those who are caught will suffer a fate worse than death. The grotesque sexuality and stomach-turning interactions at the feast make skin crawl and induce shudders. There’s something Bacchanalian and ritualistic that serves as a turning point in the plot, where darkness starts to win out.
- The final scene feels random and rushed, while it does connect to parts of the plot, it felt like there were many loose ends and subplots left unexplored.
- The story starts out a bit slow and some sections drag but the thirst for answers pushes the plot forward.
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