Peadar Ó Guilín
Published August 2016
*Review by Alexa*
Imagine a world where you might disappear any minute, only to find yourself alone in a grey sickly land, with more horrors in it than you would ever wish to know about. And then you hear a horn and you know that whoever lives in this hell has got your scent and the hunt has already begun.
Could you survive the Call?
The Call is a book that has been on my radar for quite some time. It always makes an appearance in discussions about good and unusual horror books, it is highly recommended by some authors that I adore, and it involves evil fae in Ireland. I mean, this should have been a no-brainer for me, but I still just kept putting it off (I guess I wasn’t in the mood? I’m a very moody reader). Then the conclusion to the duology was released, and I realized it was finally the perfect time to dive in. I was hooked immediately, and after the first handful of pages I was chastising myself for taking so long to read a book I was obviously going to love…except that I didn’t love it. In fact, I found myself skimming the last third so that I could finish it quicker. There was so much that I wanted to like about this book, but the aspects that I didn’t like were so overwhelming to me that they overshadowed anything enjoyable. In the interest of positivity and optimism (ha!), let’s begin with the parts that I enjoyed.
She can’t know it, but this is the first hint of the fear that will never leave her again; that will ruin her life as it has ruined the life of everybody in the whole country.
This book has a stellar concept; truly one of the best concepts for a story I’ve read in ages. I don’t want to be too spoilery or give too much away—because the official excerpts all seem to be intentionally vague—so I won’t get into the actual plot, but I will say that the way the author uses Celtic myths against the Irish people is deliciously malicious. The fae themselves, as well, are wonderful and terrifying, and definitely the most filled out characters in the book. I also really loved to read about how a society would handle a situation like the one in The Call. It seemed so cruel and horrifying, but it made sense and feels anchored in reality. Also, and this is just my preference, I loved the use of the Old Irish words instead of the modern English counterparts. It added such a nice touch even though it meant I spent some time on Google to figure out how to pronounce them.
Ok, so, as far as what I enjoyed that’s it. Let’s delve into some of the things I didn’t like. Disclaimer: all of the things that I didn’t enjoy are the same things that other people adore about this book, so these are all highly subjective. First, the writing style, which wasn’t necessarily bad, just very plain, blunt, and definitely of the no frills variety. In some ways this actually worked in the story’s favor: the starkness of the words mimicked the bleakness of the world/characters/situation and allowed the ghastly nature of the Grey Land and the Sidhe (the fae) to shine through. Unfortunately, it also means that the descriptions of the Grey Land, the fae, and basically everything fall a little flat. This is really a missed opportunity, especially for the Grey Land, and it left me wanting more…but not in a good way. Overall, the writing feels disjointed and, to be honest, a little boring. Last thing before we move on—and this is probably a little silly, but it bugs the crap out of me—I really don’t enjoy exclamation marks. Yes, sometimes they are warranted, but for the most part they aren’t, and this book used them liberally. Every time I saw one at the end of a sentence I cringed. So. Many. Exclamation marks. Ugh.
Ok, moving on. The characters, like the writing style, are fairly plain and lack any kind of adornment. We don’t ever get much description or back-story on any of them, but, just like with the writing, that sometimes works in the book’s favor. For instance, I didn’t care about any of them. Seriously, this book has a teenager dying a brutal and horrific death every few pages, and I didn’t care about one of them. I just didn’t feel a connection to any of them, and I can’t decide if that is purposeful by the author or just not great storytelling. On one hand, it beautifully echoes how the people of this world (especially the teens) must feel towards other people; however, that also means that the reader—or me, anyway—isn’t invested in their stories. I do think that the author does a great job portraying the way in which this world would create different types of people: some brutal and psychotic, others nihilistic, and still others go the extreme opposite and become caring pacifists. It’s an interesting aspect to explore, but, regrettably, the author never really digs deeper into the idea. The Sidhe are arguably the most interesting and well-rounded characters in the story, but they lack any redeeming quality at all, and so there is no way to empathize with them, and they fall flat.
All of them were human, melting into each other, mouths twisted in pain and fury or hunger.
Finally, and this is by far my biggest gripe with the whole story, there is no hope to be found. Horror? Yep. Gore? Yep. Brutality, malice, evil, death, destruction? Oh yes. But a glimmer of hope…not one to be found. I get it; some of this is needed, especially in the beginning of the story when the author is establishing the world and the characters that occupy it. But, and maybe this is just me, when the first 100 pages of a book are nothing but a running list of tragedy, horror, and graphic/disturbing deaths, I find it to be a little much. What the Sidhe do is beyond gruesome, and I personally don’t need description after description of it for two-thirds of the entire book. Even this could be redeemable, but there is simply nothing else, no shimmer of optimism or twinkle of hope…anything that makes the reader want to keep reading. I, mean, throw me a freaking bone here. I was expecting a bit of something—anything—at the end of the book to set up the sequel, but I was just left with more despair. The story just feels very Lovecraftian: unthinkably hideous creatures in a terrifying land with no hope for escape or salvation. Maybe I’m too old for this book, because this seems to be what so many reviewers love about it, but for me, as an adult with children of my own (and so being on the other side of the story), I need more than that.
Overall, The Call was too much horror and not enough story. I didn’t care about the characters, the gore was horrific and unending, and I didn’t feel invested in anything until that last 50 pages, and even then, only barely. I originally only gave this book 2 stars, but I upped it to 2.5 because the story has stuck with me. It’s been several weeks since I’ve read it, and I cannot get it out of my mind, which is quite a feat in this world of constant stimulation. So, even though this book doesn’t live up to the hype, I have to give it credit for refusing to leave…but I definitely won’t be reading the sequel.