Five Nights at Freddy's: The Silver Eyes Review (Book, 2015) #31DaysofHorror
The Five Nights at Freddy’s phenomenon is a game series that just took on a life of its own. The concept is simple: you are a security guard watching over the animatronics at a family restaurant. The animatronics are capable of walking on their own, but due to accidents are only permitted to walk at night. These accidents are most likely actual attacks as you have to watch a series of monitors and lock the doors on either side of your office to survive their onslaught for your first week of work.
The lore of the games only grew from there. Creator Scott Cawthon is responsible for an expansive indie horror universe spanning (so far): eight games, three novels, an activity book, a guidebook, and more toys, t-shirts, and collectibles than you could ever imagine. A film has been in development for years, recently switching from Warner Bros. to Blumhouse for an anticipated 2020 release. Five Night’s at Freddy’s is, without a doubt, the single most successful indie horror game series.
The jumpscare horror game is popular with younger audiences, so it’s really not a surprise that Scott Cawthon was able to shift his focus to a trilogy of YA horror novels. I’m not particularly well versed in video game novelizations, so when I knew I had the time and the resources to pick up the trilogy, I didn’t hesitate. The writing in the Five Nights at Freddy’s games is clever, surprisingly subtle, and ever expanding in ways that make you constantly reevaluate what you believe to be true about this world.
Five Night’s at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes launches a complimentary canon to the video games. The story is new, but set in the same universe with common characters and events. The series focuses on Charlie, the daughter of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza co-creator Henry. She grew up in a household filled with animatronic creatures of every shape and size being built around her and her twin brother. One day, her brother was abducted at the family business and presumed dead. Her father committed suicide shortly thereafter.
Years later, Charlie returns to her hometown for a ceremony honoring her late brother. She reconnects with her old friends John, Jessica, and Carlton who were also there when Michael disappeared. They discover that the site of five child abductions, their beloved pizzeria, was never destroyed, only surrounded by a new mall. They give into temptation and begin sneaking in at night to relive their old memories.
The problems with The Silver Eyes are clear. It’s a matter of expectation. Fans who know the games and the lore won’t really learn anything new in the novel. Characters like Charlie and her friends are brand new creations with their own version of the story to tell, but that story is nothing new to the series. By the time the novel was released, we already knew about the five children abducted at the original pizzeria as well as the original Fredbear’s Family Diner. The greatest source of tension, the springlock suits that can kill the actor inside, are also old hat.
This novel is meant as an introduction to the universe for young readers who might not have played the games yet. Charlie is a likable protagonist: clever, caring, and free with her emotions throughout the story. The novel itself makes great use of memory after traumatic events to introduce more elements of the lore piece by piece. It’s a surprisingly slow approach to a game universe where there’s a good chance you’re not even going to make it through the first night on your first try. The Silver Eyes in tone, style, and lore details is an entirely separate experience from the games.
From a technical standpoint, Cawthon and his co-writer Kira Breed-Wrisley are heavy handed with the exposition. They do a lot of describing to establish what everything in a scene looks like before actually getting on with the plot. The narrative could easily be streamlined if these descriptions happened in the moment. The old writing adage of “Show, don’t tell” is taught to new writers for a good reason. Showing progresses the narrative in real time; telling explains what is happening in the narrative rather than letting a reader experience it as it happens.
This exposition style is also 100% a product of being adapted from a visual medium like video games. In a Five Nights at Freddy’s game, you see everything you’re supposed to. The security guard’s training tapes don’t have to describe the color of the buttons on the console or the location of every room because the game already shows that. Cawthon has an eye for clever details in his games and he extends that storytelling perspective to his novels. The results are very different. What feels like significant visual clues in a game becomes tedious in a novel.
For my own tastes in horror, I would have liked to see more genuine scares throughout. There are a few tense moments in and around the restaurant early on, but the full on claustrophobic/escape the animatronics narrative doesn’t start until chapter 11 of 13. There are many moments that feel like could be the start of it, but they don’t really go for the full deadly hide and seek game action until the last moments of the book. The content you’d read the novel for is teased at but not delivered for a long time.
The Silver Eyes is not a bad YA horror novel by any stretch of the imagination. It just feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to technically remove it from the game’s lore. The story of the daughter of a Freddy’s founder and the guilt she feels about everything that happened there does not have to conflict with the main games. So many (at the time) minor details from the games appear in the novel—Golden Freddy, the drawings, the springlocks—that it almost feels like not technically expanding the lore with the novels is just a way to make sure that no small detail of a much more expansive novel begins to contradict what is already established in the game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just wanted more.
Five Night’s at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes is available on Kindle and in paperback.
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