Ashes to Ashes is the 8th book in the Experiment in Terror series by Karina Halle. Click HERE for the series reading order.
What did I just read? I literally just finished Ashes to Ashes and my mind is reeling! Wow! My beloved Experiment in Terror series is almost over. No!!!! Thankfully, there is one more installment coming next year and an Ada Palomino spin-off series in the making, so Dex and Perry aren’t gone yet.
Holy moly! Ashes to Ashes scared bejesus out of me, what with the creepy ghost children, this demonic creature crawling up walls and shit, and the freaking doppelgängers. Ashes to Ashes picks up months after Dex and Perry get back from investigating New Orleans in Come Alive. Next on their EIT agenda is investigating Sea Crest Sanatorium, now Oceanside Arts Academy, in Gary, Oregon. Currently being used as a school for gifted, artistic children, Sea Crest used to house children infected with the very contagious disease, tuberculosis.
The spooks started almost immediately in this book. Early on, Perry is having these wacky dreams (what’s new) starring her grandmother, Pippa. She warns Perry that the demons on the other side are getting stronger and stronger and could come through the Thin Veil. She also tell her that no matter what Perry does these demons will keep finding her. Creepy, right? Do you remember what happened in On Demon Wings? Do you need a refresher? I didn’t think so.
“But you’re not in a good place right now. You’re the strongest when you are strong and right now you are weak. You are succumbing to worry and insecurity.”
“That’s me, like, ninety-nine percent of the time.”
“Darling, please. I wish I could offer you more than just a feeling but you have to take it to heart. Go home. Go back to Seattle. Go be with Dex and concentrate on your life there.”
But Perry doesn’t exactly heed her warnings. Excuse me, Perry, has Pippa steered you wrong? She’s almost always right, even if she doesn’t exactly articulate it in the clearest way. In any event, Perry trudges forward with the show, keeping her dreams a secret from Dex. Perry, Perry, Perry, have you learned nothing from the past?
On their way to investigate Sea Crest, Perry stops by her Uncle Al’s home, the place where they first met. Awwwh, Derry comes full circle. I got nostalgic along with them when they pulled up to his house. When Dex and Perry walk in as a couple, Perry noticed Uncle Al’s demeanor change. Perry’s late night chat with her Uncle Al about her relationship with Dex revealed that he is not completely on the Dex Foray train. Perry leaves with seeds of doubt in her head. She has only known Dex for eight months? Is that really enough time to truly know someone? He’s 9 years older than you. You’re too young. Your parents don’t approve. Blah. Blah Blah. Uncle Buzz Kill.
The fearless trio get to Gary, Oregon, a town filled with a whole lot of nothing. When they pull up to the school everyone can feel the darkness emanating from the school, even Rebecca. Out of the three, Rebecca is the one without the ability to see ghosts and often times acts as the skeptic among them. The fiery Brit is a great addition to the team because she fills the role of the pushy producer perfectly. Before Rebecca, Dex had that role, placing Perry in front of the camera and right in front of the danger (though, he always kept her safe). Now, his primary goal is keeping Perry safe at the expense of filming a crappy show. Whereas, Rebecca is willing to push Perry a little bit to get the shot.
Sea Crest was a four story living and breathing monster and the gang was going right into the heart of it. Honestly, with the amount of paranormal activity there combined with the condition of the second through fourth floors, I’m surprised it was transformed into a school. At the school, the gang meets Ainsley Davenport, the principal of Oceanside and a rather surly individual. She introduces them to Brenna McIntosh, one of the school’s art teachers. Brenna has witnessed a lot of terrifying things at Sea Crest. One of the most chilling parts of Ashes to Ashes for me as a reader was reading about what Brenna saw. When I get scared, my eyes tend to water (weird reaction, I know). And I can tell you that my eyes were watering as she told the Perry, Dex, and Rebecca about what Jody, one of her students, saw. Sidenote: Halle, don’t think I didn’t notice the girl’s name. Jodie was the name of the demonic pig-like creature from the Amityville Horror. *shudders*
“This place is like its own entity. I swear if you listen hard enough, you can hear the walls breathing.”
Brenna filled the former art teacher’s position. Jody told Brenna that her someone named “Shawna” had made the teacher leave. Jody also spoke of a little boy named Elliot. Brenna chalked up Jody’s stories as imagination and imaginary friends. She soon found out that these stories were very real. Jody feared Shawna. Then Jody fell ill with tuberculosis-like symptoms. Freaky! Then Brenna explained that Shawna had been hanging around this bad thing.
“And when I asked Jody if [the bad thing] was still on the second floor, she said it was already here. She said it was standing behind me.”
The three amigos got a big dose of all of these ghosts very soon. As usual, the gang begins to explore Sea Crest and creepy things begin to happen. A rubber ball rolled into the room and they heard a child giggling. Davenport restricted them to the first floor and set up motion-detectors that alerted her if they ventured to other floors. Dex, the resident rule-breaker, decides that it would be a great idea to use the freaking body chute as a way to get to the other floors without tipping off Davenport. And Jesus H. Macy, another mother loving ball pops out of nowhere and they hear “Ring Around the Rosie” playing faintly on a children’s xylophone. Once again, the imagery Karina Halle creates is enough to make me, a 28-year old grown ass woman, scared of the dark and of every little peep in my apartment.
“He aimed the flashlight back inside in time to illuminate a lone bouncing ball roll past him and disappear into the rest of the darkness.
‘Holy fucking fuck!’ I screeched, my voice catching in my throat. ‘No. No! Bad!’”
Let’s just pause here for a little history lesson, shall we? Ring Around the Rosie has to be one of the creepiest nursery rhymes of all time. Its origins date back to the late 1790s when the black death was still a thing. I mean, come on, “ashes, ashes we all fall down”? Hello! That’s a direct reference to cremation. Who in the hell thought this would be a cute song for adorable children to merrily sing whilst holding hands and spinning in a circle? Someone twisted, that’s who.
I digress. Halle’s use of that song as Dex, Perry, and Rebecca are exploring the dark and foreboding body chute was absolutely terrifying and perfect. Up to this point in the series, Dead Sky Morning was probably the scariest book for me due to the fact that Dex and Perry were isolated on D’Arcy island with malevolent Mary . However, Ashes to Ashes may just have it beat. Much like Halle did in The Devil’s Reprise, there several instances where you, the reader, didn’t see the source of the terror. You had to use your imagination. Though, Halle also rather vividly paints some pretty horrifying pictures where you need not use your imagination at all. Case in point, the bad thing – this demonic spider-like demon who is best friends forever with Shawna and who climbs up walls and stuff. How’s that for imagery?
“‘Many that have seen it believe it’s a demon,’ he said. ‘It looks like a human but isn’t. Crawls on the ceilings and walls.’
And it totally just got worse. That was what the bad thing was. A demon. A motherfucking demon.”
Shawna is freaking creepy.
“I can always get my creature to get them for me. He would be better at it than I. He owes me for letting him loose.”
Things more and more intense and terrifying at Sea Crest, but that doesn’t stop Dex from being all swoony, protective and all around sexy. No matter what happens between them or bump in the road they come across, Dex and Perry can make it through anything. Dex will always and forever be high up on my book boyfriend list. He’s crass and a not afraid to say what’s on his mind. But he’s also incredibly vulnerable and fragile. He puts on a lot of armor in the form of humor, but Perry completely disarms him and makes him susceptible to be hurt. When it comes to her, his emotions are bare and I love that.
“I’m your fucking man, baby.That’s all there is to it, I’m your fucking man. That is never going to change.”
“You’re my woman. You’re my partner. You’re my love. And if I can’t try and fucking understand you and that complex, crazy head of yours, then I’m not doing my job. Then I’m not worthy of you. I want to be worthy of you, baby. I want to know how you work, how you function, how you think. I want to know you so I can be there for you and be there with you. There’s not a day that I’m not trying to discover another one of your beautiful layers.
The ending of this book was AMAZING! It left me with so many theories and ideas for what’s to come in Dust to Dust. Most importantly, what is going to happen with Dex and Perry. What’s going to happen to Pippa? And what in the world is “the person that shall not be named” doing here? What is that person’s end game? GAH!! I am scared to find out.
“So what do I have to do with the fall of humanity?”
“You don’t have anything to do with it. But maybe you will. Or someone you know will. Someone who is equally as special as you.”
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Prize (open to US and Canada):
A signed copy of Perception (it’s a paperback compilation of all the e-book novellas), a signed copy of Darkhouse, a signed copy of Red Fox (with new cover) as well as a signed copy of Ashes to Ashes and an EIT tank top