The Wandering Hour by Zack Loran Clark & Nick Eliopulos

I genuinely did not expect this first installment of the new middle grade horror series The Doomsday Archives to be quite as accomplished as it is but dang, what an impressive series debut!

New Rotterdam is one of those creepy coastal New England towns that definitely inspired H. P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth (OH! I wonder if Emrys’ name was chosen in tribute to one of the contemporary authors working hard to reframe the Cthulhu mythos without Lovecraft’s rampant racism and biases. That would be really neat!) The sun rarely shines in this foggy, perpetually overcast place, and people seem to go missing with a regularity alarming to outsiders. Folktales and legends abound, almost all of the creepy kind.

Befitting the 21st century, a wiki has sprung up to help keep track of all these stories, making them feel less hallowed and distant, and more creepypasta and — as a result — disturbingly immediate. Called The New Rotterdam Wiki Project, the wiki is written and administered mostly anonymously. Emrys Houtman is one of the contributors to this project, along with his best friend Hazel. The two met at summer camp, and Emrys was super thrilled when his mom got a job that relocated them to Hazel’s town. New Rotterdam is filthy with cryptids and other weirdness, both of which he and Hazel are obsessed with finding and recording. It helps, too, that they live in the same apartment building, along with Hazel’s other best friend, Serena.

Serena is less into the supernatural, but does have a healthy appreciation for horror films, an interest all three share. She and Emrys have a wary relationship, as often happens when two people share a bestie. But when a blackout occurs in their building, and they go to check on the enigmatic inhabitant of the top floor, they’re all plunged into an adventure straight out of one of their favorite movies. The only problem is, not everyone in those movies survives…

I grew up reading schlocky horror written for young people, and while this has all the same creepy thrills, it is genuinely a cut above the generic prose that often felt churned out for mass production (if you were an avid reader in the 90s like I was, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) The writing here is excellent, with original new horrors blending seamlessly with classic tales. Even more importantly, the authors are unafraid to go deep into the worries and fears of the average kid. The representation here is amazing but readers also learn so much about the complex and very human reasons that motivate our trio of young heroes. The kids feel so realistic that there isn’t a single false moment in a book that treads heavily on the fantastic. There are plenty of great jokes for us olds, as well, some of which I promise I’ll quote when this book comes up in my Instagram queue.

I also need to compliment the quality of the physical book. The pages feel almost creamy to the fingertips, which is a sensory delight. I loved everything about this book so much, including the excellent illustrations. This is the perfect light horror novel, and hopefully only the first of a long-running, blockbuster series.

The Wandering Hour by Zack Loran Clark & Nick Eliopulos was published January 30 2024 by Zando Young Readers and is available from all good booksellers, including

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