The Call is a grim but very original take on Irish mythology, creating an atmospheric read with nuanced characters. The feel is dystopian and unfortunately there will likely be parallels drawn to e.g., Hunger Games. But the roots of this book are much more aligned with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It’s a very distinct take on urban fantasy and very, very Irish.
Story: Ireland has been pulled out of the normal world – with no more contact to anyone outside and even the coastlines of Scotland and Wales no longer visible. The Sidhe, long since banished through trickery to the Grey Lands, have found a way finally to begin to take back what was stolen. For 25 years, teens have disappeared to ‘the call’ – facing a day of trials and horrors in the Grey Lands but only leaving for 3 minutes from Ireland. Most return horribly mutilated and dead. Some survived with horrific memories. Nessa is in a school that trains the kids to survive. It’s brutal but now every 1 in 10 kids Called survive (contrasted with 1 in 100 when the Call first began). Nessa was crippled with polio as a child and is not expected to survive the Call. But she’ll find it much harder to survive her own school.
Although this sounds like a ‘plucky underdog goes through training and then defeats the evil fae at the end’ type of story, you’d be wrong if you went into The Call expecting that scenario. What we have is the face of desperation – kids who aren’t going to school to learn and instead live with watching their friends die one after another. Most of the book takes place in the school and we’re given short sections as various characters go through The Call – and what happens to them. Although Nessa is the focus, really this is about the cruelty of the humans as they turn on each other and take out their frustrations and despair on the easiest targets – their friends. It’s brutal but it is also surprisingly grounded for a book about fairies.
I’m not a horror fan nor do I particularly enjoy grim books. But the originality of the premise as well as the very nuanced characters drew me in and kept me engaged to the end. The Call is the type of book that if it had been written 50 years ago, it would have been an instant classic similar to Lord of the Flies. There’s a lot to dissect here but the brisk pace means this is also a very quick and easy read on the shallowest of levels as well. But there is so much being said about Irish culture and its peoples, both the good and the bad. Author Ó Guilín bares the Celtic soul here in the guise of YA horror.
In all, an intriguing book full of pathos and originality. Highly recommended.