Fiends on the Other Side Uses The Set Formula Quite Well
One of my initial worries when planning these Disney Chills reviews was that they would be repetitive. And the plot summary for Fiends on the Other Side didn’t assuage that concern in the slightest. If I were to speed-run it, the template is a young character who has some social pressure on their mind finds a magical item related to a Disney villain. Then the item offers a chance to fix the problem but causes much worse issues. And, somewhere along the line, they learn to appreciate what they already have but are doomed regardless. A classic “be careful what you wish for” plotline and a staple of children’s horror.
And that happens in Fiends on the Other Side. The structure is identical to the last book—but still feels fresh because of the pacing being different. Which is a tactic I never would’ve expected. Fiends on the Other Side works more like a thriller. As soon as the main character, Jamal, gets the magic item, he’s in constant danger. The happy, “wish granted” section of the plot is minuscule because it backfires so fast.
And this works really well. From a horror/storytelling perspective, this book is a step up. In Part of Your Nightmare, the scares are almost always unmotivated—Ursula is just mean and sadistic. But, in this book, every bad thing that happens feels logical enough to not break immersion. Dr. Facilier wants Jamal’s necklace but can’t take it directly. So, he attacks, tricks, scares, and manipulates in various ways. If this book was for older audiences, he probably would’ve used even more brutal methods to achieve his goals.
This Book Keeps Up A Very Dire Tone Throughout
But this brings us to something about Dr. Facilier: Voodoo is a complicated subject. It’s a word with many spellings and is a word for real-world belief systems, religions, and spiritual practices. There are modern practitioners of these spiritual beliefs, and it has a deep and fascinating history. It’s not some fantasy book’s magic system. Using “Voodoo” the way the book does is tied directly into the source material and basically required to be depicted this way by the greater canon, so I’m not sure what could’ve been changed here, but it’s still something that should be pointed out. At least Fiends on the Other Side made sure to include good and heroic “Voodoo” practitioners, so it’s not entirely shown as something destructive.
Also, unlike the last book, Fiends on the Other Side has a distinct, real-world location. It takes place in New Orleans. And it talks about some aspects of the cultures present (like Cajun and Creole people) and some of its locations and wildlife. I don’t know how well this book represents any of that; I hope the author did enough research/has the experiences to depict it properly.
Moving back to the plot, the other thing the book does better than the previous is the character dynamics. Fiends on the Other Side isn’t very nuanced with it, but Jamal and his brother, Myrick, still have an interesting relationship. Jamal’s whole thing is being jealous of his brother, but his brother isn’t aware of this and thinks they’re on equal footing. That’s a full-on trope subversion. Usually, one person is in the wrong, but it doesn’t go there or even really insinuate it. The brothers are friends, nice people, and they care about each other. They just have different experiences of school, life, and social interactions. The narrative treats these twin characters as very different people, and that’s not as common in fiction as it should be.
Another thing it subverted was how bleak it was willing to go. Forget one tragedy; this sequel has a confirmed body count, with even more implied. However, that doesn’t mean it got more visceral in its descriptions. Fiends on the Other Side has a lot less variation in spooky images or scenarios. No body horror here. It’s mostly the evil dolls and shadows from the movie and a few animals. The tension of this story is more the constant threats piling up. The lack of options or safety.
The Ending Of Fiends on the Other Side Is Morbid
The difference in pacing I mentioned isn’t always for the better, though. The book feels rushed while somehow still repetitive. Dr. Facilier’s dialogue (this was a problem in the last book, too) is mostly built directly from movie dialogue, using the same few verbal signifiers. Jamal’s motivation is also harped on a lot, with little readjustment or iteration. Many scenes are functionally the same chase with the same rules, and we don’t learn the full stakes nearly soon enough. And, not to hit with too many critiques, but the foreshadowing is aggressively easy to guess if you know anything about horror short stories. Maybe that’s also true of the first book, and it was harder to notice without a baseline, but it felt glaring here. There is some effective dread/horror in having a decent idea of what will happen ahead of time, so this isn’t as unilateral a knock against it as it could be. I still hope that it’s not a reoccurring trend, though.
All of this together makes Fiends on the Other Side an interesting second part of this series. It shows that despite a template and pattern, Disney Chills predicted possible binge-readers and accounted for them. It also shows that the commitment to emotionally semi-complex characters wasn’t a fluke and that it’s willing to keep to permanent consequences in its magic-based plots. But it also shows that some of the repetitive prose issues haven’t diminished and can be grating to older readers. But, keeping in mind this is a book for young kids, making sure the audience is tracking with everything isn’t as much of a problem. It’s still beginner’s horror—and is solid at that. Fiends on the Other Side is never actually scary but is still spooky and atmospheric, and if you have a free afternoon and like The Princess and the Frog, it’s worth a look.
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