This was not a good idea: The Merciless II

Psycho II
Jaws IV
The Star Wars Christmas Special

The list goes on and on of sequels that never should have been made.  Not only were they, generally speaking, all completely horrific, but viewers wondered, "Why did [First Movie] need a sequel in the first place?"  My skeptical nature would answer "money," and my philosophical side would respond "But that doesn't make it good."

It's the film equivalent of the bookish tragedy known as SBS--Second Book Syndrome.  But the upshot of SBS--generally--is that the third book redeems the sloggy second book to a certain degree.  That is to say, there is a light at the end of the second book.  With this sequel to The Merciless, which I already didn't like a lot BUT which definitely has a teen audience, I don't know if even the most die-hard horror fans will really care a hoot and a holler about its existence.

The Merciless II: The Exorcism of Sofia Flores feels like one of those reboots of a reboot of an old 70s slasher movie only now with more gore! more blood! more torture! because the ability to create those things in CGI exists.  I mean, even the title is too much.  I hereby issue a moratorium on any films or books being titled "The Exorcism of [insert name here]."

I wish that Danielle Vega had done another book in the style of Survive the Night, which was more self-consciously tongue-in-cheek and just a lot of ridiculous, campy fun.  The Merciless stumbled because of its earnestness: it's trying so hard to be the creepy Stephen King book that the (clearly clueless) blurbers keep harping on.  I'm not going to recap the first book (you can read my review here if you like), but I really didn't feel like it needed a sequel.  I was just glad it was over.

Sofia Flores, the sole documented survivor of The Merciless and possible evil girl returns in this book.  She survived the night (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) when her new besties (OH EM GEE!) decided that their classmate Brooklyn was evil and that she needed to be exorcised.  As it turns out, Brooklyn really was evil and killed all the girls except Sofia, because demons "don't kill their own."  Sofia did this thing where she lured a girl onto the train tracks and killed her (honestly, I don't remember that much about it but ... okay) which means she is evil.  Well, yeah, murder is evil, but that doesn't mean you are a demon.  It means you should turn your tuckus in to the cops and fess up to your crimes instead of spending your entire internal monologue moaning about how evil you are.  Woo.

In the months after the incident, the people of the small town whisper about the house where it happened.  Sofia has panic attacks and sees a therapist.  One day, she calls her mom at work because of some severe anxiety.  A few minutes later, the cops knock on her door to inform her that her mother is dead.  Because her of her grandmother's frailty, Sofia faces entering the foster system or finding a boarding school.

In the end, Sofia gets sent to a Catholic boarding school (in the deep South???) and becomes its ward.  Is this a thing?  I feel like this cannot be an actual procedure.  But the motto of this book is "We don't need no stinking reality!" so we end up in this weird Catholic school with a scary priest/headmaster.  I get the vibe that the author isn't Catholic or very familiar with Catholicism other than what she's read in a few Dan Brown novels.  I mean, there's a nude flogging scene.

Uh, if you have experience with this at Catholic school, please don't tell me about it in the comments.  I would like to keep a few of my neurons pure and unsullied.

Sofia figures that at St. Mary's Prep, she can have a new start.  One of the nuns, Sister Lauren, is actually pretty cool and encourages Sofia to come to her with problems.  Sofia's new roommates, Sutton and Riley, handle the sudden arrival of The New Girl with relative ease, immediately swearing her to secrecy about the existence of Riley's precious and most definitely forbidden pet bunny, Heathcliff.


Other than a deep and inexplicable hatred of the bunny, Sofia feels pretty good about her new friends.  She even starts to believe that she might be able to escape her past and start afresh.  But when she starts hearing evil whispers urging her to go after the school hottie, Jude, who is definitely off-limits due to Riley's deep and abiding love for him, she doesn't think she can escape Brooklyn and her Evil Past.

Things get really weird after students start dying and the administration is all, "Oh noes!  They are in heaven now!" but all that's on Sofia's mind is getting down with Jude and tracing the mysterious scars all over his oh-so-muscular body.  Yeah, about that ...

See, in Sofia's forbidden nighttime perambulations around the campus/church, she accidentally wanders into a room where Father Creepy McCreeperston is whipping Jude, who is naked.  This is some serious Dan Brown level-wackadoodliness going on here, not to mention the whole vomit-inducing sexual abuse angle.  As it turns out, the priest is beating the devil out of him.  Sure he is!

But no biggie!  Sofia is still obsessed with Jude, and she trusts him enough to tell him what she did in the past.  Big mistake.  Jude knocks her out, ties her up, and procedes to torture her with Inquisition-style implements and whip her until she's raw and bloody.  There's a lot of running and screaming until the faux-surprise ending hits you like a ton of bricks and you just lie there, grateful that it's all over.

In one of the early reviews over on Goodreads, someone mentioned "torture porn."  Being the naïve person I am, I had to look that up--very carefully.  I found a lot of articles defending so-called torture porn movies like Saw Eleventy-Billion and The Human Centipede: Eat My Feces and so forth, but I understand the point.  It's gratuitous violence with no point other than to shock or disgust.  The last quarter of this book is all torture porn.

I've been thinking about whether I'll buy this for the library or not.  Since our original copy of The Merciless was stolen (I'm thinking more because of the pentagram on the cover than anything else), I'll probably buy the sequel.  There is a readership for this, just like millions of viewers watch the Saw movies with no problem whatsoever.  And yet, I can't help but think that this belongs somewhere back in the 90s, with Lois Duncan's shockers and William Sleator's Hell Phone and all the Goosebumps books.  It feels temporally incongruous here in 2016.

Evidently, there are more books in the pipeline for this, including a prequel.  The ending of The Merciless II is wide open for more books, and I'm sure they'll make money, but that doesn't mean they need to be written and foisted upon us.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.


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