TITLE: The Call
AUTHOR: Peadar Ó Guilín
PUBLISHER: David Fickling Books
RELEASE DATE: August 30, 2016
GENRE: Young Adult, Fantasy, Dystopia
PAGE COUNT: 312
Despite its chilling premise – fusing ancient Irish mythology with the contemporary dystopian genre – this debut horror story by young adult author Peadar Ó Guilín fell flat. Clichés, shallow characters, and its predictable plot made me cringe from cover to cover.
Until her 10th birthday, Nessa was sheltered from the horrific fate of Irish teenagers – at some point during her teen years, she will be “Called” from her world to be hunted and mutilated by the Sídhe, a fairy race banished to the Grey Lands by an ancient treaty. Despite her crippled legs, Nessa is a strong competitor at her survival school. However, even in her own world, danger lurks in the form of her distracting love interest Anto and the jealous brute Conor.
On her tenth birthday Nessa overhears an argument in her parents’ bedroom. She knows nothing about the Three Minutes yet. How could she? The whole of society is working to keep its children innocent. She plays with dolls. She believes the lies about her brother, and when her parents tuck her into bed at night – her grinning dad, her fussy mam – they show her only love. But now, with ten candles on a cake in the kitchen behind her, that’s all supposed to change – page 1
The idea behind this book hooked me, but by only the second page I knew the badly written characters would get on my nerves. Although I was tempted to put it down, I decided to persevere because the premise was so unique. My overall verdict is that the execution of the strong idea was extremely underwhelming.
Firstly, let’s chat about heroine Nessa. Taking obvious inspiration from Katniss Everdeen, Nessa wears an icy façade and is determined to survive against all odds. Disabled and forced to work harder than any other student, she is the clichéd underdog. Unlike Katniss however, she has zero emotional depth. The one attempt to make her relatable – her soft spot for poetry and her classmate Anto – is totally forced. Nessa’s connection with best friend Megan is far more believable, but made me question this unconvincing double standard – if she won’t be with Anto because she’s scared of losing him to the Call, why would she be so vulnerable and intimate with Megan?
Overall, the characters feel underdeveloped. Background characters are predictably flat, but I was underwhelmed by how little heart the main characters have. They all read like caricatures, and none stood out to me as empathetic. Even Nessa’s bestie, Megan, is a potty-mouth brat who refers to her friends as “whores” and “sluts”. Maybe what I’m struggling with is Peadar Ó Guilín’s representation of female characters. To generalise, they’re all backstabbing, butt-kissing bitches.
Point of View
The Call largely follows Nessa’s point of view, but sometimes switches to other characters, especially when they are Called. I questioned this decision. We see the Grey Lands and experience the Call several times from the perspective of minor characters before Nessa’s own Call. While these sections are action-packed, I wasn’t invested in any of these background characters’ survival.
The narration style in all sections of the book feels contrived. Constant repetition of unimportant details – if I have to listen to how much the headmistress’s double chin makes her look like a turkey one more time… – destroys the flow of the story. Overall, the narration sounds like an adult attempting to write for children, having forgotten how seriously young people take themselves.
The world of the Grey Lands is certainly horrific as advertised, but not enough to terrify young adult readers. I wanted to be thrilled and creeped out but felt like the horror aspect was “babied down” a bit. Also, there was so much wasted opportunity to go to town describing the Grey Lands in all its gut-churning glory. Sentences like the one below are a total cop out.
They encounter a dozen sights more horrifying than anything they could have imagined – page 122
Also, the everyday world of Ireland and its society were unconvincing. For a nation that obsesses over survival, I didn’t buy that the children would be kept innocent until such a late age, only to be sent to boarding school under the rule of such jaded and broken down teachers.
In conclusion, I can’t possibly recommend The Call for any reason other than its imaginative take on the dystopian genre. Every character and event strikes me as clichéd and forced.