The town of Shadows Creek, Florida was rocked by a massacre in the summer of 1989 at the local carnival, Cirque Berserk. A group of teens carried out the massacre, then disappeared never to be seen again. No one knows why they did it or how many of them there were, but they’re believed to prowl the now abandoned carnival waiting for their next victim.
Fast-forward to 2019 and best friends Rochelle and Sam are in the middle of a boring senior trip, until they learn about the infamous Cirque Berserk. They and their friends decide to visit the so-called haunted scene of the massacre for one final adventure.
This was a highly entertaining read. Cirque Berserk is part of the Rewind or Die series from Unnerving, which is a series of books throwing it back to old VHS horror flicks. Reading Cirque Berserk really was just like watching an 80s/90s teen slasher film. It had all of the beloved tropes from mostly unlikeable teens making stupid decisions, to dark comedy, but with some original elements mixed in and twists you wouldn’t usually find in your typical 80s teen slasher.
Going back to the novella’s originality, I love that we’re torn between right and wrong. I’ve read books where you can maybe sympathise with antagonists to an extent, and understand why they do what they do, but I’ve never actually rooted for them before. You come to learn throughout the book what shaped the antagonists and, as a result, I found myself spurring them on. I also loved that there was a supernatural element to the story, which is quite unusual for the teen slasher genre.
Rochelle, the main character, is awesome. She’s a badass who knows her worth and doesn’t take anyone’s shit. She goes above and beyond to protect those she loves, but she’s also a regular teenaged-girl. She loves dancing to Whitney Houston, she adores her hot boyfriend, she’s clever, witty and she loves to have a good time with her friends. Rochelle is a character you can really get behind.
Aside from being an awesome slasher fest with great cat & mouse and gore scenes, the underlying themes of belonging, survival in a sometimes brutal world, love and community are what I loved most about this book. It’s written in such a way that we get to jump between present day (2019) and 1989. We get to be witnesses to the events leading up to the Cirque Berserk massacre and what led these mysterious, murderous teenagers to do what they did all those years ago.
Overall, Cirque Berserk is an exciting, fast-paced read with very relatable characters and fun nods to 80s pop culture. If you love slashers, this book is for you. If you’re happy for your morals to be tested, this is most definitely for you. I look forward to reading more from Jessica Guess.