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Followers by Christina Bergling #BookReview

Sidney, a single mother with a menial day job, has big dreams of becoming a full-time horror reviewer and risqué gore model. She’s determined to make her website a success, and if her growing pool of online followers is any indication, things are looking good for her Elvira-esque aspirations. In fact, Sidney has so many followers that chatting with them is getting to be a job in itself. More than a job, it might be getting a risky….

When Sidney is attacked on a dark trail late one night, it becomes clear that the horror she loves is bleeding into her real life. She learns that real-life horror is not a game, and being stalked isn’t flattering—it’s terrifying, and it could get her killed.

Sidney—and her loved ones—are now in serious danger. This follower isn’t just another online fan: he knows her movements, and he knows her routine. In fact, he’s right behind her… and when he gets close enough, he won’t take no for an answer.

Title: Followers | Series: N/A | Author:  Christina Bergling | Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing | Pub Date: 09-24-2021 | Pages: 370 | ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09FTM2TZT | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: ARC | Unstarred Review

There will be spoilers in this review. I’m putting the big ones behind spoiler tags but I can’t discuss my thoughts on this book without discussing things that happen in the book. You’ve been warned.


Followers is a novel in the underrepresented “internet stalker” subgenre of horror. I’ve been poking around that subgenre recently so I was interested when this ARC came to us. I’m sorry to say that my opinions on this book weren’t as positive as I would prefer. I mean no offense to the author, but I’m not going to be dishonest either. I have some nicer things to say in the Conclusion, but this is going to be a mostly negative review.

The book gets off to a slow start. Sidney takes suggestive photos of herself to use for clickbait on her blog, and that’s a good chunk of the story for the first 20% of the book or so. And I think Sidney had the same “everyone’s judging my lewds” conversation with almost every character that got a line of dialogue, except her elementary school-age son. I was interested to see what would happen in the main story but the opening felt inflated by Sidney’s need to get everyone’s opinion on whether it’s acceptable for her to like horror movies and post photos of herself online. This repeated rehashing of events we’ve already seen will unfortunately be a running theme for this book.

Multiple characters kept admonishing Sidney with “Be careful what you post online. You never know who’s on the other side of that keyboard.” Some characters said it more than once. I wasn’t a fan of the moralizing for a couple of reasons, the first being that we already know Sidney’s going to get a stalker so this dialogue doesn’t serve an effective purpose as foreshadowing, and the second being that it drifts a little too close to victim blaming for my taste.

From about the 15% to the 25% mark is also filled with some backstory/side plot that I’ll put in spoiler tags below. Suffice it to say this portion felt excessive to me.


I quickly lost most of my sympathy for Sidney when it was revealed that she cheated on her husband and that’s what caused the divorce and all the animosity between the two of them. Especially since the author frames Sidney’s ex as unreasonable, cruel, and childish, at least in the first act. While I don’t agree with some of Aiden’s behavior, cheaters don’t get to act like the victims of their partner’s trauma response.

And the author spends so much time in the first act making multiple characters express how out of line, bitter, and crazy Aiden is while completely dodging Sidney’s part in her own circumstances so much that it starts to feel like the author is desperate to prove something. The author goes so far as to have her characters scold the man for being jealous after being cheated on and say that people who get cheated on get cheated on for a reason. Sidney said at one point that she feels like Aiden damaged her and that’s why she pursues these compliments and risky relationships. So in a sense the blame for this entire story is being laid at the ex-husband’s feet because…he didn’t like being cheated on?

It’s very weird to me that the author spends so much time both moralizing about Sidney getting too personal with strangers on the internet and also defending her for cheating. I’m always very hesitant to accuse an author of holding the problematic beliefs of their characters but when every character on the page is ripping a straw man to shreds to defend the actions of the protagonist I’m forced to wonder whether that’s just the characters or if they’re being used as mouthpieces.

And all of this becomes irrelevant because the cheating never gets fleshed out beyond that or has any bearing on the story, unless the author thought this somehow painted Aiden as a possible suspect. I think she could’ve done that better by making Aiden something other than a betrayed spouse if that was what she was going for, and she would’ve ended up with a much more sympathetic protagonist as a result.

At about the 30% mark I got the impression that we were finally moving into act two without much fanfare or change in pacing, or even a hint of an inciting incident for that matter. It finally sounded like things were about to start happening as Sidney and her friend Wes take a road trip to the Telluride Horror Festival.

I feel the need to mention that the attack described in the blurb, which is framed more like an inciting incident, doesn’t occur until almost 40% of the way through the book. It’s also the first event in the book that feels fully related to the promised plot. I guess it could work as a sort of mid-point turn, but at this point I’m thinking the pacing of the story and the intensity of its scenes are just really strange.

And after all that build-up, Telluride only lasts a couple of chapters. And Sidney tells the same story about being attacked in long-form to multiple characters so they can all react with horror over the fact that she didn’t report it. It feels like a repeat of the photo thing at the beginning. And like I said, this isn’t the last time that kind of thing happens.

Things do start to pick up after the 50% mark, but that’s awfully late for the payoffs to start coming, and the majority of the story that came before didn’t really set up anything. They were largely just events in Sidney’s life that could’ve easily been omitted without costing me any understanding of the story so far.


I hate to admit it but by this point I started skimming large portions of the book, and I have never skimmed a novel before. It was just more and more of Sidney being paranoid and feeling like a terrible person because she invited a stalker into her life, while her friends all tell her it’s not her fault and there’s no way that’s what happened, even though at the start of the book they all told her that’s exactly what would happen.

So many sentiments are repeated over and over again for what I can only assume is the goal of inflating the word count to an acceptable novel length at this point. There are so many snippets of text conversations that don’t go anywhere or add anything to the story, and they must only be there to remind us how many suspects there are without giving us any clues as to who the stalker is. I started out reading those texts so closely because I thought this would be like a mystery novel where i could guess which one it is, but I eventually realized that it’s all more or less just filler.

A few more things happen that would be scary as we move toward the third act, but Sidney goes to several other characters each time to tell them what happened, reiterating the story unneccessarily. One good thing is that with each new event the length of the retellings get shorter, but I got tired of the aftermath of each traumatizing event being “Okay, let me tell my friend what just happened, and now my internet boyfriend, and now the guy I’m sleeping with, and now my online friends.”

But thankfully Sidney recovers from her trauma and depression by deciding that none of this is her fault and she doesn’t have to feel bad about people dying all around her. And she should be able to enjoy horror movies still, dammit. Because the real tragedy in all this was that all the violence and death made it too hard for her to enjoy something she loved. I don’t really know why we needed this revelation. If anything she should be scared and trying to figure out what to do about the threatening behavior and rising body count, not self-actualizing on the backs of her dead friends.


The story would easily lose a third of its length if all the retellings of events that happened on the page were cut. Sidney even does it with the climactic scene with Oliver that I describe in the Characters section, reiterating the event to both her gay friends and her ex husband separately. Why? I don’t understand. At this point the story is 40% things happening and 60% Sidney telling everyone who wasn’t there what happened.

I won’t write much about the ending but I’ll just say it didn’t impress or satisfy me. It feels harsh saying it that way but it’s the truth. Somehow it manages to be completely telegraphed and also inadequately set up. I don’t know how to explain that.


Because I very much dislike this cliche I’m putting it at the top of this section under spoiler tags.


Sidney’s black roommate, Kendra, is killed. This is actually a couple of tropes in one. First it’s the “black guy dies first” trope which really needs to go away and there’s no excuse for using it. The second trope is called “fridging” which technically doesn’t 100% apply here because the trope originally involves a woman character dying specifically to motivate a male protagonist, but I think it’s close enough here since Kendra’s death serves no real purpose but to scare Sidney and later motivate her to stop living in fear.

Sidney as a character confuses me. About halfway through the book it’s said that she’s awkward offline and I was left scratching my head about how I was supposed to interpret this lewd-posting, boyfriend juggling, employee-scolding baseball mom as shy and awkward. I’m not making any value judgments or saying that a real person can’t be all those things, I just find the characterization inconsistent for a story. The book showed me one thing and told me something else chapters later.

And admittedly this is a minor gripe, but with all the talk the characters spend on cheesy horror tropes it’s worth pointing out that Sidney the horror nerd falls into a ton of them throughout the story, sometimes right after saying she won’t be that cliche or admitting that she’s about to do the horror movie cliche that gets people killed. Don’t get me wrong, I love tropes. That’s why this is a minor gripe. But horror is a genre full of cliches and everyone is gonna call you on it, so calling it out yourself and then just doing it anyway feels a little funny to me. Was it supposed to be like Scream where the characters joke about the tropes and then it happens?


I also don’t know where in the review to put this, but I’m mildly annoyed that lip service is paid to Sidney being poor and struggling and needing this blog to take off and pay the bills, but she behaves like any reasonably financially secure middle class person. She has a store management job at a cell phone place and doesn’t need to work a second job, she can afford to spend four days on a film festival vacation more than once a year, and when the thing in the previous spoiler tag happens and she has to get a new house, she somehow can afford to get a place on her own and buy her son a bunch of brand new stuff for his bedroom. As someone who grew up with a single parent in poverty this just didn’t work. Just leave out the part about being a struggling single mom fighting to make ends meet. Raising a kid and trying to get your dream off the ground are plenty difficult and relatable on their own.


Near the end when one of Sidney’s “internet boyfriends,” Oliver, shows up, I find the characterization a little lacking. A lot of focus is put on the cliche of “evil, therefore ugly.” There was no reason to make the man ugly, it’s just a lazy shorthand for making him scary. It also slightly annoyed me that seeing the way he looked at her so lecherously with his ugly face suddenly made Sidney recoil from all the flirting and borderline sexting they had done over the course of the book. She’s shocked that he was looking at her in such a perverted way all this time, which is absurd given the dirty things he’s texted her. The implication is “It made me feeel good before, but now I know he’s not attractive, so it’s gross.”

The author also has Sidney mentally mock the guy for having a small penis, which I guess is fine but it seems childish and unnecessary. He’s a caricature at this point, and all of these physical descriptors smack of toxic masculinity to me.


There were some things that stood out on the prose level that dragged me out of the story more than once. Most of them were things that the editor should’ve caught, and since this was an advanced review copy I can hope that they took care of some of these things in the published version, but I feel like they’re worth mentioning.

There were several instances of characters repeating the same behavior, often multiple times in a single scene, sometimes barely a paragraph apart, and sometimes with very little difference in wording. It’s distracting to imagine a character constantly grinning or fighting their unruly hair into place every time they speak. Absolutely everyone always “smiled broadly.” And I felt the urge to count how many times Sidney nibbled her lip.

On a related note, I’m not usually one to judge people for using phrases other than “he/she/they said” to mark dialogue, but when everyone’s dialogue is constantly marked with “he laughed” and “she smiled” it starts to feel a little weird and get distracting. I’m not saying don’t use them, but when they happen frequently enough that I start counting how many times the same unusual dialogue tag was used in a chapter that’s maybe too much.

I also got frustrated with the formatting of the text conversations. While the character names were included in every line, my eyes started to skim over those, and there was usually almost no other indication when one conversation ended and the next began and they would sometimes run two or three in a row, so I was often going back to reread because I was confused about who said what. Just a simple “She switched to chat with so-and-so” would’ve been enough to reduce a lot of that confusion.

One big issue I had was the number of clunky sentences. The phrasing just didn’t work in several places and an editor really should’ve ironed those out. They were simple mistakes that made things sound unnatural or tongue twister-y. Making me go “huh?” and go back to reread a paragraph two or three times isn’t the best thing.

I will give credit though that as the story moved into the second act the overall quality of the prose improved. The descriptions became tighter and more vivid and the interactions became much more engaging. By comparison the first act feels under-edited, which is strange given how much importance is normally placed on the first few pages of a story.


I think I can point to two big flaws that if fixed would do this book a world of good. The first is that everything is happening to Sidney. She’s not proactive at all. You don’t need a proactive protagonist in every story, but this one would’ve benefited from it.

The second flaw is that the plot points in this story are arranged roughly the way a horror movie’s plot points would be, so if this were a 90-minute movie with standard Hollywood structure it would run really well. The problem is that this is a 370-page book and that means there aren’t enough plot points to fill that much space with adequate pacing. That’s why it felt like things dragged so much and I suspect why Sidney kept retelling what just happened on the page. This was a screenplay spirit in a novel’s body.

I would watch Followers the movie. It would be a fun, slightly cheesy genre flick. From that perspective I see the bones of a decent story. I just don’t think this execution was the best way to handle it.

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

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Published inHorror Book ReviewsUnstarred Reviews

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