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Literature / The Rise and Fall of the Sky Valley Cult

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Teenage Wastelands: The Rise and Fall of the Sky Valley Cult is a YA Horror/Fantasy novel by Kent J. Starrett, and the sequel to his first novel, Jackie and Craig.

The story features the surviving characters from the first book, who have been relocated by the S.S.C. to Rhode Island, where they each try to make their own way in the world after the destruction of their hometown, Shadow Creek, by the same organization trying to suppress paranormal phenomena.

Will, now working for the S.S.C. as his grandfather once did, discovers a series of child disappearances across America. Some simply vanish from their houses, cars and roadsides; others run away, leaving cryptic messages about a paradisical valley somewhere in the deep south. Amy works at a pet store, still trying to adapt to the normal world as an autistic person, and Craig is deep into PTSD trauma with near-constant nightmares and visions of a shapeshifting, cloaked figure named Indrid Cold.


It all comes to a head when Craig meets Haley Larson, a girl with a beautiful singing voice, a similarly tragic past, and a few stories passed down from her grandparents about Sky Valley. Will thinks there's something to it, and the newly-formed quartet decides to set out to find Sky Valley; and any of the missing children who might be found there.

What they find is a commune built from a Ghost Town where nobody is above the age of twenty-one, and a permanent fog cloaks the valley from the outside world. Some of the youths have unnatural powers and can control the weather or the elements, while others can read minds and hear thoughts, often with disastrous consequences. Most, however, are refugees, fleeing street life, abusive parents or child exploitation rings. Many have children of their own, and some of the town's warrior caste go on raids and steal various drugs and supplies from other, poverty-stricken rural towns. Craig, Will, Amy and Haley are now all trapped here, under the power of Sky Valley's mysterious leader, a former child-preacher named Tal Raquin.


Known for being strikingly distinct and Darker and Edgier than its predecessor, which was essentially Bridge to Terabithia with acid-trip monsters, as well as heavier emotional stakes and more thoroughly developed characters. Teenage Wastelands has since become the overarching title of the saga. At least one more book is set to follow within the next twelve to eighteen months, called Escape From Concordia.

This novel provides examples of:

  • The '90s: Takes place sometime in the Fall of 1999, albeit in an Alternate History. Amy listens to Marilyn Manson and NIN, and the Columbine High School Massacre gets a Shout-Out as well.
  • Amazonian Beauty: Syvier would be this, if not for the graphic facial scarification.
  • And I Must Scream: the dravaines, slaves who attempted to flee Sky Valley and were mutilated and lobotomized for their heresy.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Craig tries to be this, against all odds. He doesn't succeed, but he tries.
  • Arc Words: The same as the rest of the franchise: "They're just flesh and blood." Also "I think I love you," for Craig and Haley's romance.
  • Bus Crash: Craig and his mother are driving off into the sunset at the end of the first book. In this book, we learn the car crashed, and his mother was killed instantly.
  • Call-Back: the remains of certain cryptids are seen as trophies in the Stadium Majora, and Syvier mentions passing through Shadow Creek (and refers to it as a bombed-out wasteland).
  • The Chessmaster: Tal Raquin legitimately believes that adulthood means brain death while still alive, and that allowing humans to survive past age twenty-one leads to an inability to adapt to social progress and by extension, child abuse - which is unthinkable to him. To this end he is bottomlessly cunning in his attempts to persuade followers and to bring converts to the 'Safe Haven' of Sky Valley. Anything reprehensible he does is kept under wraps, to preserve his image as a Friend to All Children.
  • Conlang: Raquin is a royal title for a Sky Valley ruler. Conjuror surnames follow a male given name, but precede a feminine one - for example, Chavayress Syvier and her husband, Joliesque Chavayress. Dravaines are cloaked slaves, Malthaires are warriors formed mostly of former jocks, Conjurors work with the elements and Nighthawks can hear thoughts and control animals. Newborns are recent converts. The word 'Conjuror' is used to refer to all Sky Valley children indiscriminately, and sometimes the Raquin Dynasty is called 'The Conjuror Empire' by outsiders.
  • Covered with Scars: Chavayress Syvier. Former Pageant queen, ballerina and Southern Belle. Current Professional Killer and leader of the Malthaires, Sky Valley's warrior caste.
  • Cryptic Conversation: All of Indy Cold's 'talks' with Craig Steiger.
  • Dark Action Girl: Syvier, Raquin's pagaent queen/ballerina-turned assassin and manhunter. Her signature weapon is a pair of machetes chained end-to-end, which lines up well with a ballerina-spin she does to inflict damage during close combat.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Craig is a lot more sharp-tongued and cynical, as anyone would be after what happened in the last book.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Sky Valley must have been influenced by Jonestown, and the sequence in which expendable civilians are burned alive inside a decrepit building is an actual war crime that Nazis committed, and has more than a little bit of Gas Chamber overtones.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: The story originates from a screenplay Starrett wrote when he was twenty called Teenage Wastelands: The Saga of Tabby Irons, which he wrote because after beginning an unused sequel to the first novel he was completely sick of monsters. After he realized the franchise potential of TW and Jackie and Craig became a cult success, he re-tooled the script to form books two (and soon, three) of the series. The fanbase is undecided on which book is better, or even good. Some are fans of only one installment.
  • Driven to Suicide: Most of Sky Valley's 'civilians' are teenagers who escaped abusive homes or worse. The fact that all of them commit suicide at age twenty-one, practice ritual endocannibalism, and murder each other and the adult populations of entire towns is just as bad, even if it is tinged with light Urban Fantasy elements.
  • Expansion Pack World: Shadow Creek, the town from the first book, has been destroyed by the S.S.C. Where do we go from here? Stepford Smiler New England on a Deadly Road Trip to The Savage South, of course!
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Tal Raquin has two wives. In public they wave to crowds and are chained by the neck to his wrists.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The first novel is called Jackie and Craig, while in this one Jackie is barely mentioned and is seen only in a flashback near the end of the book.
  • Genre Shift: The first book is told from Craig's perspective exclusively, and is a dark horror-comedy about monsters on the loose. All-in-All, it feels like an exceptionally dark 90's kid's movie. Sky Valley is a much darker, gritty mystery novel told from multiple points of view that features children and teenagers committing unspeakable violent acts to each other and dying horribly. The first book dealt with simple themes like friendship and bravery, while the sequel deals with heavy themes of tribalism, religious fanaticism and the weaponization of love and dependency. Talk about going downhill.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Craig has a long slash from rib-to-shoulder, clawmarks on his shoulders and a fleshgait bite on his bicep from the first book. Syvier has deep slashes all across the right side of her face "like she tried to go down on a lawnmower." The protagonists assume this to be from a rough life full of fights and close-calls, but Syvier actually did this to herself after her father made a pass at her one night before she found Sky Valley.
  • Ghost Town: Besides Sky Valley, which is implied to have been turned into one by way of Conjuror infiltration, there are a lot of these owing to Axis attacks on America during the fifties.
  • Gladiator Games: Sky Valley's citizens fight out their differences in the Stadium Majora, which was once a High School Gymnasium. Malthaires warriors train there, criminals are forced into combat there, and it's implied cryptids are sometimes brought there; though we only see their bones. Eventually Will, Craig and Amy are forced to kill there.
  • Hegemonic Empire: How the Raquin Dynasty functions, though in this novel we see only its capital, the eponymous Sky Valley.
  • Heroic BSoD: Craig, after killing another human being for the first time. Indrid Cold terrorizes him over it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Haley.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Indrid Cold, the being that appears to Craig in nightmares and hallucinations. It wears an overcoat that bulges and undulates as if it conceals a very nonhuman body, and it changes faces every time Craig sees it - when it's not wearing a lifeless Manniquin's face, that is.
  • Kill It with Fire: Sky Valley Youth kill themselves with fire, and allow their remains to be eaten by their lovers or children. It's implied that they have been drugged or are under some kind of psychic manipulation to do this.
  • Killed Offscreen: The last book ended with Craig and his mother driving away into the sunset, trying to leave behind the traumatic memories of what happened in the Town with a Dark Secret. Apparently the car crashed and killed his mother, and the town (and all non-recurring characters, it's implied) had to be destroyed to contain the cryptid infestation.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Syvier is a physically intimidating nineteen-year-old girl who weilds a pair of machetes chained end-to-end. One half of her face is covered in scars, she drinks gin and she could have been a martial artist if not for Tal Raquin. Her husband, Joliesque, wears translucent robes (as do Sky Valley women), grows his hair long, and loves jewelry. Syvier is viciously devoted to protecting him, and will violently murder anyone who tries to hurt him for any reason.
  • Medical Horror: the dravaines, mutilated heretics who now work as slaves to the Raquin Dynasty.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Craig feels bottomless guilt over killing the malthaires who are trying to hunt them down after they attempt to escape.
  • Professional Killer: Chavayress Syvier hunts down escapes from Sky Valley, and has a face covered in knife-scars. Eventually it's revealed she did this to herself in a fit of insanity, long before she ever discovered Sky Valley. She eventually takes center-stage as Craig's nemesis.
  • Psychic Powers: Tal Raquin can manipulate the weather, as well as peer into the minds of others from a distance. The more time he spends with a person, the easier it becomes. Conjurors are Sky Valley Youth who can start fires or call wind or lightning with their minds, while Nighthawks are psychic spies who can read thoughts and infiltrate other small towns to be culled. While they cannot control human minds exactly, they can influence thoughts and emotions with their powers; less intelligent creatures, like animals, can be controlled.
  • Ragin' Cajun: Most of the Sky Valley Populace meets this definition, including Tal Raquin himself. Among the more sympathetic characters, this applies to Torcon and Ickett. While not particularly Raging, Whisp, Allie, and other random, nameless Conjurors all have cajun accents and wear gator/coyote hides and bone accoutrements.
  • Recycled Script: Began life as a screenplay independent from Jackie and Craig. Suddenly the Darker and Edgier tone, absence of monsters, and Genre Shift from dark preteen Creature Feature to complex, serious mystery story makes more sense.
  • Religion of Evil: Conjuror Religion is a combination of Baptist Revival meetings, faith healings by way of psychic powers, Cajun/Appalachian folk magic and ancestor worship. Dead conjurors are eaten, and their bones are kept by their loved ones as sacred objects.
  • Retcon: Though nothing in the first book directly contradicts it, apparently the franchise now takes place in an Alternate History where World War II extended until 1953, and attacks on American Soil lead to more extensive cold war paranoia and resultant preparations, like underground bases and tunnels. The current president is Bob Dole, and Will mentions Reagan having been successfully assassinated in 1981.
  • Rugged Scar: Syvier, again.
  • The Savage South: Sky Valley is in Southern Appalachia. Characters have southeastern accents, eat Gator Jerky and "Crawdaddies," and practice a Southern Baptist-esque religion that venerates Tal Raquin like a revivalist preacher or a televangelist.
  • Scars are Forever: Syvier is very proud of her topographical map of a face.
  • Servant Race: The lowest rung on the conjuror totem pole are dravaines, who wear full-body black cloaks and facial shrouds and never speak (though they do hiss and mumble). It's not sure where they came from, or even what they are, but they're subject to a great deal of abuse from Malthaires warriors, Conjurors, and civilians. It later turns out they're heretics who have had their eyes sewn shut, tongues/teeth pulled and are either castrated or given chastity belts.
  • Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility: A type II. The aspects of WWII, Reagan's assassination and the different social and political climate of America are feasible if sketchy, and the monsters, magic and Lovecraftian nightmare-beings are pure fantasy.
  • The Spook: Raquin, Syvier and most of the Sky Valley youth, seeing as all we get of their background are fragments that may not be true anyway. Indrid Cold fits to a T, as we don't even know what he is.
  • Spy Fiction: Lightly, where it concerns Will's parts of the story. Near the end, Amy joins in, making it a case of both Ammonia/Absinthe Spy Fiction and Agents Dating stories.
  • Shout-Out: Syvier loves Tom Waits and sings 'Underground' often. She dances with her husband to songs from the album it's on. Haley sings Sinatra and other classic songs to Craig, which is part of why he falls in love with her. Sky Valley itself is named after the Kyuss album Welcome to Sky Valley, which in turn is named after a real place in California. The song "Odyssey" from said album is quoted.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Syvier prefers extensive body scarring to being a piece of meat constantly targeted by predatory men.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Syvier stands a little over six feet tall, and is described as muscular.
  • Technicolor Eyes: Extensive experimentation with conjuration leads to strange eye colors - notably yellow and pink. Tal Raquin apparently has silver eyes as a result of his immense telethesic power. In-universe, psychic powers are explained as the result of electroconductive human nervous systems, something like the electrosensitivity of electric eels and hammerhead sharks.
  • Ye Olde Nuclear Silo: These were built throughout the late forties and early fifties before World War II (and by extension Axis attacks on the American Mainland) and have now been repurposed by the S.S.C. for secret meetings and interrogating/exterminating civilians..