After an evening at Universal Studios in Florida, a group of teenagers decide to keep their Grad Night going by breaking into an abandoned and allegedly haunted theme park, Cirque Berserk. Rochelle seems to be the only person in the group not excited about trespassing onto a circus-themed amusement park were a mass murder took place in 1987. But teenage angst and good old-fashioned peer pressure lead the teens and their bus driver into a trap no one could have seen coming.
Cirque Berserk by Jessica Guess is the fourth book in the Rewind or Die series of different authors published by Unnerving. Following the theme of throwback horror, Guess puts a modern and original spin on the 80s slasher genre. She does this not only by incorporating standout Black and people of color characters into her story, but also by twisting the traditional ideas of victim and villain. This fun, gore fest also packs a powerful emotional punch with Guess’ themes of friendship, love, and belonging.
Written with alternating points of view and alternating years (1987 and 2019), Cirque Berserk keeps readers enthralled as the story unfolds before them. Guess’ writing is clever and layered, leading the reader through a maze of well-constructed plot points, time jumps, and POVs, without breaking the flow of events. Cirque Berserk is an entertaining, energetic romp but also contains very human characters with flaws, feelings, and fears that make them identifiable with readers who may have had a difficult time finding themselves in their favorite movies or books.
Without giving too much away, Rochelle, a Black high school student who just wanted to go home, is a much-needed breath of fresh air. She’s original, interesting, and is someone you’d want to be on the same side with (for a variety of reasons) if there were deranged killers on the loose.
Juxtaposed with moments of high-energy insanity are heartfelt moments that shine a light on themes of belonging and “otherness.” In Cirque Berserk, lots of terrible events take place—many in bloody and inventive ways—but loners, runaways, and the abused find loyalty, friendship, love, and acceptance.
Every character is written with dedication and depth, and the suspense continues to grow with each chapter. Readers may find themselves sympathizing with each side, changing sides, or not sure who they’re even rooting for anymore. The end (no spoilers!) is awesomely shocking, sweet, and very satisfying.
For fans of slashers, amazing 80s music and references, and fast-paced action, Cirque Berserk is a contemporary horror story with all of these and more. Filled with captivating characters, bizarre kill scenes, and deftly written nods to 1980s horror, this book is pure entertainment and enjoyment for old and new lovers of the genre.
Author: Jessica Guess
Cover courtesy of Unnerving