This is the type of horror that seeps into your brain and wanders around, taking over your dreams and worming its way into your sub-conscious. Irish folklore with a twisted twist.
Ireland has been cut off from the rest of the world for a quarter century. Thousands of years after the Sidhe were defeated by the Irish and driven to a nightmarish otherworld, the fairy folk have gathered their strength and returned to fight for their land. To do so, they issue the Call, wherein every Irish child at some time during adolescence systematically disappears and is brought to the Grey Land to fight for his or her life. 1 in 10 return alive. And they, 3 minutes and 4 seconds after they disappear, return to Ireland changed forever, distorted and twisted, physically and psychologically.
15-year-old Nessa awaits her Call. She has lost countless friends and family and knows that her chances of survival depend on her wits more than her strength. Because she has another challenge. Childhood polio left her legs weak and twisted, and outrunning the hunters will be nearly impossible for her. She trains every waking moment to be prepared for the hunt. But even reading the hundreds of Testimonies from survivors cannot prepare anyone for the horror that awaits.
The world building in this novel is flat-out amazing. This is fantasy horror, and Peadar Ó Guilín has nailed it. Dystopian Ireland is a land of terror. Teens live in fear of the Call, parents of losing their children to it. They are cut off from the rest of the world, technology is useless, communications barely survive, and the world has abandoned them. The children are sent away to schools to learn survival tactics, and Year One classes of 60 dwindle to three or fewer by Year Seven, as one by one they are Called.
And the Grey Land more than lives up to that simple description. In a dimension without colour, where time has slowed, there are ugly, twisted, vicious monsters that used to be human. They chase the thieves (what the Sidhes call the Irish teens) to torture and kill. The Called must survive a full day in the Grey Land, but everything there is deadly. The absolute horror of hunting dogs that upon closer inspection were once people, twisted viciously out of shape. The cloaks of the Sidhe, made from human skin. Flora and fauna that had their origins in the Many-Coloured Land of Ireland now haunt and demonize the Grey Land. And the Sidhe themselves, beautiful fairy folk that live for vengeance and can maim with a mere touch.
Nessa is an ordinary girl in an extraordinary situation. She recognizes that in order to survive she has to harden her heart against any distraction, including friendship and love. Cold and aloof, she pushes away her fellow trainees, not ever wanting to be moved from her training and focus. But try as she might to be alone, there are those that ignore her cool exterior and strong arm her into friendship. Megan is one such girl; she is an irreverent redhead who embraces life with as much force as Nessa ignores it.
Conor, Anto, Liz, and Aoife are characters that play a huge role in Nessa’s life, some for good and some for evil. Other characters are met only as they receive the Call; they are the ones that suffer the greatest in the Grey Land but survive the least amount of time. The adults in the story are very much in back ground, as they watch their Nation’s future stolen away from them. Many work to train the youngsters to survive, studying the Testimonies of the survivors looking for clues to help give an edge to the teens, but in the end are as helpless as those that are Called.
This book is brutal and dark and bloodthirsty. Through the images of horror and fear, it examines the causes and costs if war. We all know that history is written by the victors, but beyond that, how is responsibility determined? Who bears the guilt of past wrongs? Who must pay?
Another horror novel that is not for the faint of heart, although I suspect any teen that reads it will handle the fear better than I and enjoy the fast-paced action and imaginative monstrosities within. But I may never sleep again.
The Call was published August 30th, 2016 by David Fickling Books.