[This review comes thanks to reaching my $125/month goal on Patreon. Thanks so much to all my amazing patrons!!!]
So the Give Yourself Goosebumps series has been something of a mess. I mean, that’s part of the point, right? You take the ideas and themes from Goosebumps and give kids the option of dying horrible deaths. What fun! But readers, this book. This fucking book. You may want your own booze in order to follow along at how, as I delve into the utter madness that is Night in Werewolf Woods. For those wanting my thoughts as they happened, please check out this thread where I drunkenly live-tweeted the experience. Otherwise, let’s dive right in!
Oh, I should say that because I started my read early in the morning, I was drinking plain old Leinenkugels at the beginning. When I reached the pterodactyl (we’ll get there, trust me), I re-upped with something a bit stronger, a Hop Happy from MKE Brewing.
So the premise of this book is vaguely straight forward, and completely eschews the normal family dynamic established in the series. Namely, NO SIBLING! Which is a big surprise. Instead, you’re parents are taking you on summer vacation to WoodsWorld, a sort of camp ground I guess where people stay in cabins. It’s also probably a swingers camp, though, because your parents are bringing along another couple, the Morrises, who have a son your age, Todd. Now, the book is not subtle or kind about Todd, who is a nerd. He...I mean, he looks like a nerd, and talks like a nerd, and is basically social kryptonite and you now have to spend your summer with him while your parents get freaky with the Morrises. Not fun.
This is made all the more annoying when, as soon as you show up at WoodsWorld, the local bullies, the Murphy brothers (Buck, Jess, and Sharky—that’s right, his name is Sharky) spot Todd’s weakness and steal his pewter miniatures. Now, my main experience with pewter miniatures is Warhammer, so I’m just going to assume that he got his High Elf army stolen and is Broken Up about it. Which, that makes sense. Kid probably spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on that army. So while Todd goes off to cry, you’re in charge of trying to get the minis back. You find out the Murphys have hidden them, and that it’s some sort of Werewolf Moon that night. You also get a mysterious note about Werewolves saying that if you don’t retrieve the pewters before the morning, they’ll be gone forever. Which sucks, but I mean is it worth going out into the monster-filled night? I guess so, because you don’t even get the option of refusing.
On the one hand, this is something of a step down from “your sibling will die if you don’t get them out of the timestream” or even “you accidentally joined a club of monsters.” There’s not exactly the sense of urgency here, except that Todd really wants to get his shit back. On the other hand, I do appreciate that here is something much more mundane. The set-up here isn’t necessarily dangerous. For all you know it’s just Sharky messing with you. And things don’t necessarily get super weird until much later, so it’s a seductive kind of horror. That said, once you set out after those pewters, shit gets weird. Like, really really weird.
I can divide the book into two main parts, depending on a certain choice you get early on in the book. And it has to do with which set of lights you want to go toward. There’s a red set of lights and a white set of lights. Now, the clue at the beginning intimated that werewolves like the color red. Which does end up working out because if you head in the red direction, most of your outcomes do in fact involve werewolves. However, the book (in a weird moment) offers you the option of basically giving all that a pass. For a book with werewolf in the title, you are allowed to go in a direction that’s pretty much not about werewolves at all...it’s about an evil little troll.
Now, things just fucking happen in this story. Which, okay, it’s a CYOA staple that weird stuff just happen, but especially in this one a lot of the book has a rather random feel to it. Take the troll (please). He shows up when you dig up some red boxes that look like the tin box containing the pewters. He’s Master of the Box and when you open one that’s supposed to give you super strength, he shows up and declares that you are now his slave. Which...okay...that’s weird. But unfortunately it’s also correct. He’s got some sort of whistle that can make you okey his commands. Though it’s possible to just plug your ears, he’s a tricky troll and often manages to outsmart you and get you back under control. He’s also interested in the pewters because they are apparently enemies of the trolls?
And okay, maybe what bugs me about this book is that things are picked up and then never really followed through on. Which might seem par for the course for Goosebumps but I feel that this book goes farther than that. It eludes multiple times to things that just don’t pay off. The troll wants the pewters because they are dangerous to the trolls, but the pewters are never shown as being dangerous to the trolls. You never use the pewters against them. You do use them against the werewolves, but only coincidentally and not because of any power the pewter figures have. Similarly, the poem that you get at the beginning of the story about the werewolves...doesn’t come from anyone. The werewolves didn’t write it, nor did the troll. In fact, the only beings that communicate in that way are uplifted ants, and you did the uplifting, so they couldn’t have written the note before they were smart enough to compose poetry. And just sigh. I have one theory that I’ll get to about this, but for now, the troll.
Part of what’s awful about the troll is that he loves transforming you. There are three different endings where you are transformed into something by the troll (disappointingly, there are only two endings where you are devoured by werewolves). In one, you become a fish. In another, you become a troll. In the last, you become the worst thing of all...Todd. Seriously this book hates Todd, though that might just be to show the True Good endings where you learn to respect him for his beautiful pewters and his possible bravery and maybe he’s your new boyfriend I don’t know. There a number of ways to defeat the Troll, too, but I will say the most satisfying is causing a troll uprising where the trolls the head troll has been mistreating drown him in a lake and then just go off and leave you in peace. It’s classy. But by and large the troll plots involve super powers and lots and lots of whistling. I hate them so much.
Not that the werewolves are much better. In the red light path, you find a cave and inside the cave you are separated from Todd and accidentally unfreeze a whole bunch of werewolves, who you then have to try and outfox. Now, this path involves a bottomless pit (with a pointless elevator in it), a gratuitous vore scene where you are swallowed by a lake monster, and a completely random pterodactyl. And some sexy bats. And, it turns out, the only clue that makes any of this fucking book make any sense. In one of the very few scenes where you are devoured by werewolves, it turns out that the Murphy brothers are also werewolves, part of a family that has been separated for a long, long time.
Before I get to that, though, I want to also note that this book has some weird views on murder. On three separate occassions you are given the power to either help someone or let them die. On none of those occassions does doing nothing actually mean something bad happens to you. In one, you just watch Todd fall to his death forever. In another, you need to first opt to let people die but then “change your mind.” And in the last, chosing to leave people to die actively helps you in your quest. It’s...well...it’s just something I noticed.
Okay, but it’s CONSPIRACY TIME!
Like I said, just about nothing in this book makes sense, but stay with me. The ants you meet intimate that there are factions in the Werewolf Woods. Of those, I can assume the trolls are one and the werewolves are another. They have been engaged in an epic, generational war that has lasted in stalemate for eons. The trolls currently have the upper hand, but the werewolves have a plan. Namely, you. The entire book is a plot to get you and Todd to enter into the cave and free the frozen werewolves. Obviously there’s some sort of anti-werewolf magic that prevents the Murphy brothers from doing this, so they write that poem and lead you to the cave, calling your name to get you to enter (something else the book never explained—a voice calling you into a creepy cave). Meanwhile the troll is trying his best to keep you otherwisely occupied, knowing that above all he has to keep you away from the cave. That’s why nothing he does makes sense, because his plot is literally to just prevent you from waking up the frozen werewolves and upsetting the long stalemate.
Which means, according to the True Good endings, that the werewolves win. There are only two endings that I consider True Good, because they have you accomplish what you set out to find (namely, retrieve the pewters and survive as a human). In one, the head troll is dead and the trolls are leaderless. Even without waking up the other werewolves, you’ve upset the balance yourself and the werewolves will return to dominance. In the second, you tricky the werewolves down the bottomless pit, but the Murphy brothers haven’t been exposed as werewolves. The moment you leave, they’ll just take the fucking elevator down and rescue their family. With you none the wiser, they’ll have no problem crushing the trolls and ruling the woods. I’m only surprised it didn’t turn out that the resort’s owner, Lauren Woods, wasn’t a wizard or something. Oh well?
And yeah, this was a wild one. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but I’ve given it my best shot to force some semblance of order onto everything. Which means it’s time to break the book down by the numbers!
On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 4/5 (I feel like all of these Give Yourself Goosebumps books are good for fanfic, because none of them make any damn sense and they have so much random material. What was the deal with the pterodactyl? Or what do you and Todd get up to after this is all over? To what extent did Lauren know much more than she was letting on? What kind of kinky place is WoodsWorld. Because yeah, I kind of doubt everyone’s parents were there just to play cards)
On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 1/5 (look no. Just no to this one. I can safely say that at no point in this rambling mess of a book did anything like a coherent narrative emerge. It’s fun at times, to be sure, but that’s not really enough to save it from any of its many flaws. Even as a CYOA book, it did a lot of wearying things like offer a bunch of “options” that weren’t actual choices. And the trivia was weak and didn’t actually matter much. So yeah, big no on objetive merits)
On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 2/5 (subjectively...is a fairly similar story. As far as Goosebumps books go, this one is a bit below average. It does some neat things, and some of the randomness makes for a quicker and more bizarre read, and not always in a bad way. But for all that there are some endings that I like, the truth is that it tries to fit too many different things in at once to do any of them any well. It’s by no means the worst book in there series, and it doesn’t do too much bullshit with gender roles and such, but it doesn’t do enough to make up for all its plot issues. Plus, it’s supposed to be about werewolves and it’s like half about trolls. No)
And there it is! The next bonus review will be if I can reach the $150/month goal I have. Thank you all so much for making this possible. Until next time, cheers!