As I mentioned in my reading slump post, I decided to try a book recommended by a friend to see if it helped me to pick up some enthusiasm for reading again.
That book, as recommended by Sally, was The Call, by Peader Ó Guilín. It had actually been sitting in my to-read pile for months, as I picked up an ARC at YALC, but I hadn’t managed to get around to picking it up and starting it. Perhaps because of my general slumpiness.
But after I thought about the slump, I bit the bullet and picked it up. I admit I read it before I wrote the slump post, but the post was percolating in my mind for some time beforehand!
I’m reviewing it now because it’s almost Hallowe’en, and The Call is definitely a spooky sort of book. Dark and grim, it’s got immensely powerful faeries, a decades-long revenge quest, and a cast of characters who get killed off at roughly the same rate as in a George RR Martin book. I think that’s enough to justify discussing it around Hallowe’en.
3 minutes and 4 seconds. The length of time every teenager is ‘Called’, from the moment they vanish to the moment they reappear. 9 out of 10 children return dead. Even the survivors are changed. The nation must survive. Nessa, Megan and Anto are at a training school – to give them some chance to fight back. Their enemy is brutal and unforgiving. But Nessa is determined to come back alive. Determined to prove that her polio-twisted legs won’t get her killed. But her enemies don’t just live in the Grey Land. There are people closer to home who will go to any length to see her, and the nation, fail…
There was a lot that I could really have liked about this book – a disabled protagonist, with polio-twisted legs, Nessa is not defined by her disability, but given the nature of the world she lives in, it’s difficult for others not to define her solely by it.
Set in an Ireland which has been cut off from the outside world by a deadly revenge plot from the Fae they trapped in the Grey Land thousands of years ago, The Call is the story of a fight for survival – not just in the 24 terrifying hours that all teenagers will spend in the Grey Land, but in the broken and struggling Ireland, cut off from the outside world and forced to try and eke out a nation which can survive in a world where 9 out of 10 teenagers will die.
I don’t know a whole lot about Irish folklore, and that’s always something I felt like I should rectify. The Call had a lot of interesting information about the Tuatha De Danaan, and even little touches like the names of their deities being the words the teenagers use to curse were interesting. By Crom!
I read this book almost immediately after I read A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I found it interesting that both referenced a cauldron – in ACOTAR, it is the Cauldron that created the world (and there’s more about that in ACOMAF), whereas in The Call, the Dagda has a cauldron which can remake anyone who enters it. I had never heard of this Cauldron before, but clearly it’s part of the gaps in my folklore knowledge.
So there was a lot in The Call that I should have really liked. And I think if I had read it when I was in a better mood and not trying to work myself out of a slump, I would have absolutely loved it. But since I was in a bad mood, and I was predisposed to crankiness, I came away from The Call with a sense of dissatisfaction. Everything just felt like it worked out a little too easily, and Nessa felt a bit like a Mary-Sue.
Also, parts of this book are extremely grim – everything in the Grey Land is made from parts of people. Horses from humans stretched thin, dogs of humans grotesquely moulded to that shape, a cape made of flesh, a sea made of grasping hands – the interspersed tales of the too-short and terribly brutal forays of other students into the Grey Land added a horrendous dimension to the bleakness of the book.
I think, as well, that there was something about the shifting narratives that frustrated me, but now I can’t remember what it was. The prologue and epilogue were both in present tense, which was definitely infuriating, but the main text wasn’t.
In reality, although I didn’t love The Call, I didn’t hate it either. It was probably a lot to do with my bad mood and the slump when I read it, but it has ended up being quite a forgettable book for me, which is unusual given that there was a lot in it that I should have really liked.
I might give it another go in the future and see if I like it more – or I might see if a sequel is published. The book definitely left a lot of scope for further development.