The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

When David Fickling Books are publishing a new title, it’s something to take note of. The publishers have released the last two year’s best books for me (The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, and Unbecoming by Jenny Downham), so I already know that their calibre of YA is pretty high. So when The Call came to me, I was very curious indeed – A YA horror/thriller with deep roots in traditional Irish folklore? I’m in…

The Call

Set in a desolate Dystopian Ireland in a world where all teenagers must survive The Call – 3 minutes and 4 seconds in which they will be transported to the hellish Grey Lands to fight for their lives against the twisted and beautiful Sidhe (pronounced “Shee”) people – the malevolent fairies of legend who where banished there thousands of years ago by the descendants of the modern day people of the Emerald Isle. Time moves differently in the Grey Lands, and 3 minutes becomes 24 hours there, whilst the Sidhe hunt their prey – and if you’re lucky you’ll be transported back at the end unharmed. If you’re lucky they might only kill you. But the Sidhe like to play with their victims if they catch them early enough… Twisting human flesh into grotesque art. If you’re unlucky, what they send back might not resemble anything human at all. Nessa, the story’s main character, is at a training college that educates and prepares the nation’s teenagers for The Call. No-one expects her to survive – there’s no way, not after polio ravaged her legs as a child. She can barely run without the aid of crutches, and the Sidhe won’t let her take anything like that with her. Her death is a certainty, and everyone knows it. Except Nessa – Nessa is going to prove them all wrong…

image

Despite such twisted writing, he seems so nice!

Talk about PACING. I’m a pretty slow reader (it bugs me a lot), but I flew through The Call in about a week, which is not bad going for me. Peadar expertly pulls the story along by using short, punchy chapters, each one ending on just the right hook to pull you into the next one. It’s these choppy chapters, filled with action and mystery which keep the book pounding along through its story, combined with the way he jumps from Nessa’s plot to the short, often violent lives of those Called to the Grey Lands. It’s these little snapshots of the brutality of the Sidhe realm that up the tension for the characters left behind, and as they are Called one by one, the pressure becomes monumental on those who remain. Peadar also uses a Clive Barker-esque feel of horror in his writing, by twisting the familiar to make it unsettling or outright upsetting (in the way all good horror should be), and the punishments and the games of the Sidhe are wonderfully creative and horrifically dark and cruel. The Grey Lands themselves are a suffocating alternate world which the author describes in scant, disturbing slices, but it’s the bleak and ruined Ireland that really feels the darker setting of the two. Only 1 in 10 teenagers survive The Call, making the country a crumbling ruin of what it once was. The adults are strained, hopeless and desperate, and the teenagers range for confident and arrogant to nihilistic, and the clashing this creates makes the characters really stand out – none more so than Nessa. A physically disabled protagonist in a YA novel is virtually unheard of, and one in a fast paced survival horror is even rarer. Nessa might even be the first, to my knowledge. Her resolve and quiet determination are at odds with the usual “strong female character” trope that we see so much in the genre. She has fears and hopes, loves and hates. She isn’t an unstoppable badass – she’s a girl who everyone else has written off already, and the bitterness of a life being told she’s as good as dead quietly weaves its way through her actions.

The Call uses mythology and modern horror ideas to create something really unique and absorbing. As someone with no knowledge of the Sidhe and Irish folklore, I’d love the backstory to be investigated a little more and fleshed out – perhaps in a sequel…? I’ll be the first in line…

Thanks For Reading,

D

Advertisements

Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions that horror is probably my favourite genre – Ghost Stories more than Zombies – but I tend to find that it’s done badly an awful lot, which upsets me greatly! A good horror should be subtle and building, and full of atmosphere. When I was sent a proof of Amy Lakavic’s debut novel, the people at Simon & Schuster described it as “Little House on the Prairie meets The Excorcist”, and so obviously I was very interested.

UK Cover

UK Cover

 

Last Winter, Amanda saw something in the snow from her family’s tony cabin on the mountainside. Her parents are convinced it was nothing more than the result of intense cabin fever, the six of them cooped up in the winter snow drifts, but Amanda knows that she saw the Devil himself, and his festering evil has never left her soul since. This Winter, with a new sickly baby, her Father decides it’s time for the family to move from the isolated mountain to the flatter, less treacherous prairie. It could be a chance for Amanda to escape the hellish evil that she feels stalking her in the forest. When they arrive at their new cabin, though, they find it covered in stagnant blood. Has Amanda brought something with her, or is there evil everywhere?

US Cover

US Cover

Wow, Daughters Unto Devils gets horror perfectly. It’s character driven, evocative and so powerfully atmospheric and it builds with a slow, deliberate sense of dread. Amanda is a torn, realistically written girl, full of darkness and hope – I love how much more flawed she is than her sister, Emily, and her self-doubts help build her into a character and narrator that we really root for. The strict, overbearing religious parents are also painfully twisted, all pure upfront but with layers of aggressive, hateful misery beneath them.

The atmosphere is where the book really shines, though, with a real sense of bleak isolation and hopelessness. The horror is unfolded gradually, using Amanda’s unease and slow descent into paranoia to build it up to staggering proportions. It twists everyday events and throws in some deeply unsettling one shots – particularly the baby standing in the long grass of the prairie. The final few chapters though are horrifically gripping and I raced through them with wide eyes as the levels of violence and awful, horrific events ramped up to make every page an exploration in dark, twisted imagery that sticks in the reader’s brain.

I also really like that Lukavics explores some really important issues in this book, including the ideas of teen pregnancy, miscarriage and guilt, and I found it so brilliant that it’s a story driven by a decisive, emotionally articulate girl, and her friendship with her sister is so powerful. Like any good Horror story, it’s all about show, not tell, and it uses its character’s psychology to get the creepy feel right into our brains.

Thanks for Reading, as always,

D

P.S. The book does contain some potentially upsetting scenes, and so it definitely requires a Trigger Warning.

Demon Road by Derek Landy

Derek’s Skulduggery Pleasant series is one of the best loved Middle Grade/YA crossover series in the world – brilliantly blending macabre horror with a unique, twisted sense of humour and plenty of twists and turns that have kept readers gripped for over seven years. His new series, purely YA, promises to deliver the same sense of magical horror, wanton violence and sharp, acidic wit, and let me tell you it did NOT disappoint.

SOME SPOILERS LURK BELOW – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED


51evp5grutL.SX316

Amber is a 16 year old girl. Like many 16 year old girls, she doesn’t have a huge amount of friends, spending her time on message boards for her favourite TV show and working shifts at a local diner, as she waits to graduate high school and inevitably head out into the big wide world. She has a distant and strangely cold relationship with her parents, who have always been vaguely loving but disinterested, until the day they tried to kill her. You see, Amber’s parents are demons. Red skin, tall, resplendent and complete with long, black horns – proper demons. And they and their friends have been extending their demonic lives for hundreds of years by devouring their children when they turn sixteen – and Amber’s next on the menu. The only advantage she has is the she’s also a demon, able to shift from her average human form into a terrible and beautiful red skinned demon, gaining super strength and resilience in the process. Fleeing her home and her parents, Amber makes some unusual friends and begins an epic road trip across America in search of some way to stop her parents and their friends from becoming more powerful by consuming her – including making a bargain for her soul with the Shining Demon that originally granted them their powers, pitting daughter against mother and father in a struggle that goes way past life and death. It turns out though, that Demons are hardly the strangest and most dangerous things on the Black Roads of America…

Whoa, what an absolute RIOT of a book! Demon Road is Derek Landy on top form, and I was so immersed in this story – I’m just gutted that it’s going to be over a year before I can get my paws on book two. Amber is a brilliant lead character, and she works perfectly in the story, pushing her self-loathing to one side and coming out swinging as soon as she discovers her parent’s true nature – she’s a real hardcore girl with a strong survival instinct, and not because she needs to live for someone else, but just because she wants the chance to be her own person. Unlike the Katniss’ of the YA world, she makes a lot of pretty stupid mistakes though, which highlight her trusting, if naïve nature, and her gradual learning and understanding of her demon nature, and the supernatural world around her helps open the hidden world to the reader at the same time, instead of lumping huge amounts of information on them at once. Oh, also Amber has a great sarcastic streak to her that definitely works well with her character, and especially bounces well off Glen. Aaah Glen, the wonderfully doomed and infuriatingly motor-mouthed Irish teen is a brilliant side character for Amber (and hurrah for no damnable romantic subplot!), because the way he nervously rambles and babbles gives the story the humour and dialogue it needs. I’m impressed that Landy managed to make him so endearing, despite how mindlessly he acts and the way he talks first and thinks second – he really adds heart to the story. Finally, Milo is Amber’s stoic, secretive driver on her trip along the Demon Road, and he wordlessly balances out the two teenagers with his patience and effortless skills and knowledge of the darker underworld of the USA. His character arc is beautifully done too, as he starts to view Amber as more than just a job, but as someone he actually wants to protect.

DEREK IS COMING TO MY SHOP!!

DEREK IS COMING TO MY SHOP!!

I love Derek’s writing style in Demon Road… He really does create a strange, almost Summer-y quality to the road trip, but he works in the subtle but creeping horror perfectly, and so much of it is expertly done to be unsettling as opposed to cheap gore soaked frights. Plus, his world feels deep and well thought out – I get the distinct impression that there’s a much richer mythology going on under the surface that we’ll get to peek at in later books in the trilogy. The description is excellent here too, flowing and bouncing intelligently and using really jarring comparisons to help hammer home that sense of unease and dreamlike uncertainty in the reality of what the characters are seeing. Oh, and I love the way the road trip plot ties together some excellent set pieces – almost like mini episodes within an arcing plotline.

Fans of Derek Landy are going to adore Demon Road, and newcomers to his work will find it an excellent starting point to his writing style – dark, unsettling, hilarious and heartfelt, with wonderfully varied characters and more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing.

Thanks for Reading

D

P.S. – Demon Road is out on the 27th of August, but you can Pre-Order your copy here.

P.P.S. – Derek will be signing in my store (Waterstones Durham) from 1pm on the 29th of August! I’d love if you could come along.