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?
Ours is the Many-Coloured Land, at some unspecified time in the future. The main characters of The Call are adolescent Irish people, taken away for a terrifying three minutes (and four seconds). The threat they face is the Sídhe, the fairy folk, who according to legend were banished from our world to the Grey Land. As revenge, the last twenty-five years in this timeline has seen Ireland cut off from the rest of the world, under constant threat from The Call, with the odds of survival for these kids up against them.
Peadar Ó’Guilín’s YA Book Prize nominated fantasy is well worth the hype. Its basis in Irish mythology is rich and layered, with a modern twist in the form of its central concept of the call. The pace is relentless, as we meet Nessa on her way back to her fifth year of survival school, which all adolescents now attend. Nessa is from the outset at a supposed disadvantage, having contracted polio in her childhood, which is brilliantly weaved into the plot. She has been underestimated her whole life and seen as inferior in this world where strength and agility is everything. She does her utmost to study how to survive The Call and show her schoolmates and teachers what she can do. The fifth year is the year that the students are most likely to be randomly Called, for their three minutes in which they must do everything they can to survive.
The imagination throughout is fantastic, with the varying outcomes for the students described in vivid details. Most return from The Call dead, some physically altered and some mentally altered. The world of the Sídhe is terrifyingly vivid, its stormy skies and dangerous terrain exhilarating every time the author writes a chapter based there.
The character dynamics in The Call are fascinating; Conor, the supposed king of the students who has coerced his own disciples into following him, believing him to be the elite. Megan, Nessa’s feisty best friend. Anto, the boy who Nessa woos with old Irish poetry, but she knows she can’t get close to anyone in this dog-eat-dog world. The cast of teachers are allowed to be fleshed out somewhat too, from those who happened to be in Ireland when it was cut off from the world, to those who have survived and are back to mentor the next victims of the call, to the seemingly indomitable Ms Breen, an expert in the Sídhe and their methods and culture.
There are a myriad of action set-pieces throughout, with the threat of a Call for any student just around the corner, and yet the tension ratchets up throughout as the narrative rises to a head and Nessa becomes more than another student to be played with by the Sidhe.
The Call is really an excellent read, with memorable characters and great imaginative descriptions of a horrifying world. Peadar has promised us a sequel, so I’ll be looking forward to that when it hits the shelves.