The book starts with the murder of a real estate developer who's wandering in the forest around Gerenford, Vermont, dreaming of the suburb he plans to build, when he stumbles on an ancient rite with runes and chanting over a flaming snowmobile and finds himself -- the required sacrifice.
Shortly after, 11-year-old Gregory Buchanan receives an invitation from his Uncle Maximilian Grendle (like the beast, from Beowulf) and cousin Prudence to visit their huge mansion for summer vacation. He invites his best friend, Brian Thatz, to come along.
Creepy weird things start happening right away, on the train and at the station. Uncle Max is bizarre and doesn't behave quite right. The butler burns all their belonging and the boys have to dress in "knickers."
They're encouraged to roam the forest, even though the residents of the town warn the boys not to -- citing the real estate developer who disappeared, of course.
There's a game board in their shared room, The Game of Sunken Places, and as the boys explore, more "places" appear on the board.
At this point, you kinda clue in that this is, essentially, an outright creepier-than-Jumanji gaming book. The boys aren't big on strategizing, so it's not a role playing game, not per se.
But the boys have to
1) discover they're playing a game,
2) discover people are not who or what they seem,
3) figure out the objective of the game.
There's two sides to this game -- the Norumbegans, a sort of elf-race that used to live in the mountain, before the Thusser invaded and they came to a stalemate.
The game rules remain sketchy right up to the end, and frequently change beneath the boys' feet.
There's a troll, Kalgrash, who's anything but the expected hideous and enjoys a spot of tea, and Jack Stimple, who isn't at all what he seems.
I can't say more, I'd ruin it, so read and enjoy this thoroughly creepy sci-fi / fantasy read.
Remember the real estate developer from the first book? Sacrificed when he stumbled across the ancient rite that basically started the next round of game play, designed to be Gothic horror by Prudence, the game's previous winner?
Yeah, well, Milton Deatley's back -- and although he's a reanimated corpse, he's building homes and cul-de-sacs faster than Gregory or Brian can keep up. In fact, by the time the boys realize Prudence is missing and make it to Vermont to figure out what's going on, the Thusser have thrown the rule-book out the window.
Brian and Gregory are happy (sorta -- divisions between the two, jealousies, are arising) planning the next, and final, game. Brian technically gets to plan it, since he won the round for the elf-ish Norumbegans. The Norumbegans rented the boys a workshop in an old warehouse, and WeeSnig is building automatons to flesh out the noir mystery (think the old TV show, Mike Hammer) of Brian's design.
Someone or something tries to kill Brian on the subway. Then their half-built secretary tries to kill them with throwing stars. The Thusser are not playing games anymore. They're flat-out invading, creating time / space distortions that allow them to move into the new subdivision.
But first, they want to prep the human race. -- their thoughts and fears are easier for consumption that way.
The boys haven't heard from Prudence in two weeks, so they head off to the mansion in Vermont to figure out what's going on. They quickly discover the houses are absorbing their occupants.
Kalgrash shows up, leads them back to the mountain and the portal they almost stepped through in the game in the first book in the room with the creepy, scary arms growing on vines.
That's where the Norumbegans went, through the portal hundreds of years ago, and it's up to Greg and Brian to find them and tell them the Thusser are breaking the rules. Because there's no way humanity can stop them on their own, or at least, the boys don't think so.
And this book is delightfully gross. If Book 1 was a Creepy, Murderous Jumanji with robots, and Book 2 was a Ray Bradbury-esque Twilight Zone "suburb that will eat you," then this book can only be described as Bionicle, but inside a living (possibly -- probably? -- dead and decomposing) being. The inhabitants are elves and the creature in which they're living is so enormous they haven't explored it all. It's very gross, throughout, but in a good way (?).
The elfi-ish Norumbegans on which Brian (not necessarily Greg) has pinned all his hopes for stopping the Thusser invasion from spreading like a cancer through the suburbs of America have sunk to new lows.
When they "retreated" from Earth through the portal in the mountain, they stepped into ... something alive. It swallowed, numerous times, and destroyed or washed away the beginnings of their new civilization and city. They're left living in squalor and ramshackle buildings hastily carved out of tissue and constructed by the few automatons who weren't washed away. The remainder of the automatons deserted.
Brian, Greg and Kalgrash are rescued by an automaton, Dansig, who trades them to the Norumbegan court in exchange for the deactivated heads of 30 of his automaton comrades. Except the Norumbegans welch on the agreement, because they don't believe automatons are beings.
Then, the Regent to the royal Stub (it's way grosser than you're imagining) is murdered at court. Kalgrash and the boys' automaton rescuer are accused of the assassination. They're deactivated. Brian and Greg are quickly embroiled in court intrigue. Brian is determined to prove Kalgrash and Dansig innocent, get them reactivated and go in search of the means of stopping the Thusser invasion of Earth.
But even in the body of New Norumbega, the Thusser are planning and plotting and so are many, many individuals at court. And like in all the books, things -- specifically the disgusting Royal Stub -- are not what they seem.
And there's a final book, which my library doesn't have, can't purchase and, due to COVID restrictions, won't obtain via ILL (Inter Library Loan) because that service has been discontinued. So, if anyone has read The Chamber in the Sky, and would like to send me a link to your review, I'd love to hear from you!