Second Star to the Fright Is A Common Trope Done So Well
In a running trend for Disney Chills, Second Star to the Fright mixes up the formula. This time, we get a complete curveball: it plays the “be careful what you wish for” trope entirely standardly.
And that’s not a complaint. This is the best book yet. There’s a reason this type of story has persisted for so long. There’s something about seeing someone get what they want and then having it turn out terrible that feels so engaging. It’s a classic archetypical tragedy, especially when the wish wasn’t built to fail, and the tension is from unforeseen consequences. Up until now, Disney Chill hasn’t simply delivered on that framework—but here we are finally. And, wow, does Second Star to the Fright have unforeseen consequences. I keep harping on how morbid the endings can be, but this one is existentially brutal and genuinely sad.
It also continues the appreciated trend of covering more complex interpersonal and societal topics. As one might expect with Peter Pan as an inspiration, Second Star to the Fright talks about the nature of growing up. And instead of only highlighting the fun of being a kid as something to lose, it presents growing up in uncomfortably real ways as something to fear. The narrative gets downright melancholy and evokes feelings I think most people occasionally have throughout their life. The constant pressure of bills intruding into otherwise pleasant moments; sleep deprivation, and the ever-increasing caffeine addiction catching people in a self-fulfilling loop; the crushing weight of responsibilities and expectations only scaling upward with each subsequent year. These are cliché examples, sure, and not presented with much nuance, but they felt almost put there for an older audience to empathize with.
The Book Has Interesting Stuff To Say About Aging
But in the vein of further breaking expectations, or maybe just simply being a more thought-out story, the book doesn’t unilaterally label one or the other as better. Being an adult can be terrible, but so can being a kid. The lack of control and freedom gets its dues—but to talk more about it is a massive spoiler. This could’ve easily been a much longer novel with more discussions and examples from both perspectives. I would’ve read it all happily. A conversation between our MC and his teenage sister about adulthood was probably the best scene in the book—only closely matched by interactions amongst the main character’s friend group.
Speaking of which, this installment also uses side characters better than the previous ones. It’s a little clunky at first. There are one or two lines that border on a fatphobic stereotype. But that’s basically never brought up again, and in later sections, they become fun characters that elevate the narrative. Post-wish, I wanted to see more of how their reality shifted and how they dealt with it. Again, I guess the takeaway is I would’ve gladly read more pages. These books, especially Part of Your Nightmare, have their main characters be loners or their friend group function as almost side antagonists via social pressure, but it makes the non-horror moments more interesting when there are multiple dynamics at play.
The horror has also improved. Second Star to the Fright not only has one super solid horror moment, but it also kept two of my favorite major improvements from Fiends on the Other Side: actual, present, physical danger, and direct motivation for the villain’s periodic attacks. I won’t spoil it much, but this book’s plot has a good enough internal consistency to speculate on how the magic works. That’s impressive, no matter the genre. And then it utilizes the magic in subtly and overtly creepy ways, sometimes even using the parents as part of the scare—which feels almost like breaking a genre convention. If the first book was child-friendly body horror, the second a toned-down supernatural thriller, then this third one is a barely reserved psychological horror.
Second Star to the Fright Borders On Being Scary
It’s not all good, though. There are a few issues worth mentioning. It’s a pernicious trope in horror fiction to treat people with an amputation and their arm(s) as horrific in some way, and this book, unfortunately, keeps to that trope. But thankfully, it doesn’t constantly bring it up in the narrative. Captain James Hook is mostly treated as scary for other, actually logical reasons. He tries to murder the main character with a sword several times. Outside of him, there’s also some body shaming stuff involving security guards that didn’t even seem to have a point besides random description. That’s about it, though. I’m sure the prose had unnecessary repetition, but it doesn’t stick in my memory as even much of an annoyance.
Second Star to the Fright might have had to hold back a little on its horror, and Deus Ex Machina saved the MC once or twice—it is, I must remind, a book for kids—but it tells a solid and creepy story with an interesting take on what’s basically immortality. It somehow manages a contemporary setting with semi-realistic kid characters while taking elements from its (now very poorly aged) source material and mostly making them fit. Once again, I find myself recommending a Disney Chills book. You don’t even need to like Disney for this one. If you even just enjoy children’s horror fiction generally, then it’s worth reading.
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