Substitute Creature, written by Charles Gilman, is the fourth (and final?) book in the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series. A collection of fantasy horror stories set in a school, aimed at the young adult market (12 years old and upwards, although or I would say that is it written well and easy enough to read so would also be good for children aged from 8 or 9). Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, an author of weird tales and scary stories, adult readers may recognise some of the inspiration as the school is set in Dunwich, Massachusetts.
The Lovecraft Middle School series introduced us to a state-of-the-art school (made from recycled materials – although some materials may have been obtained from a very strange and haunted house) that was built on the grounds of the old Tillinghast Mansion.
Crawford Tillinghast was a mad physicist who did lots of experiments from his mansion home until a botched experiment caused an explosion that left behind the house existing in a parallel dimension.
Tillinghast Mansion can still be accessed through hidden portals or gateways hidden throughout Lovecraft Middle School, allowing things to travel between the two different places.
Pupils of the school, Robert, Glenn (school bully) and Karina (school ghost) have found the portals and the alternate dimension and stumbled across Tillinghast’s plans to capture humans, place their souls in urns and use their husks (skin and hair) to create outer bodies for his monsters so that his can take over the school and the world. They have already survived several near-death experiences with Professor Gargoyle – a winged beast, The Slither Sisters – Sarah and Sylvia the snake women and Teacher’s Pest – Howard Mergler who turned out to be a giant bug monster. Now the story continues in book #4 – Substitute Creature.
Substitute Creature continues after Teacher’s Pest finished and it is now Valentine’s Day and things are starting to get even stranger. A dangerous storm is brewing leading to an evacuation of the school but Robert and Karina, along with a few others including the substitute librarian and Robert’s pet rats – the two-headed Pip and Squeak, end up stuck at school and having to stay the night.
Substitute Creature continues in the same form as the previous three books with lots of action, battling bugs and monsters, humour and light horror and is a very good story that seems to be bringing the conclusion of the series to an end, but doesn’t quite get there.
As a story, and part of the series, Substitute Creature is excellent and has everything kids want to read. With well-defined characters, good and bad, the story will capture the minds of the young readers and leave them wanting more. As I said, Substitute Creature is starting to bring the story and secrets of Tillinghast Mansion to a close, leaving the ending open to a fifth book, but unfortunately the series stopped here and we are left without a grand finale, which is a such a shame. That said, the series as a whole and the individual books are an excellent read – fun, exciting, packed with adventure and monsters and with light horror that will keep children entertained without scaring them too much.
As readers of the series will know, the books have a really unique feature to capture the attention of the reader – the cover! The cover is a holographic / morphing cover and Substitute Creature features a picture of a woman (looks like a librarian) who when the book is twisted left or right slightly morphs into a crazy eyed, grinning woman that is quite eerie.
If you are a fan of the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series, then Substitute Creature is a good addition, featuring a substitute teacher who is losing worms from her body and the addition of chattering little furballs (The Old Ones) that are very dangerous. Hopefully the author will finish the series at some point with the addition of the fifth book just to give the closure of the series that is needed as the story is incomplete the way it stands.
For me, Substitute Creature is as good as the previous books in the series but a fifth and possibly sixth book is needed to wrap up the story as the reader is left with lots of unanswered questions.
RRP: £12.99 (Hardback)