I suspect that if you hang around YA fiction long enough you start seeing trends becoming apparent. Certain creatures become all the rage for a while, then they go dormant and let something else take the spotlight.
A few years back I caught my first new “new” exposure to the treatment of contemporary fairies through Holly Black’s Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, and Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series. New “new” because the last time I encountered anything fairy-like, they belonged to Disney and I was a child, and the fairy in question was Tinkerbell from Peter Pan.
The takeaway is that my second exposure to the Good Neighbours, the Others, the Gentry, the Sidhe, was considerably darker than the family-friendly picture painted for me as a kid.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with the various courts – Seelie and Unseelie – hell, I’m of Irish descent, so the older stories I knew of didn’t involve pixie dust: they were cautionary tales that suggested tricksters and devils; children stolen from their cribs, debts inherited from saying something as simple as “thank you”, and people who’d eaten Their food whose taste for such unearthly fruit made everything else they put in their mouth taste like ash.
The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín
To date, I don’t think I’d read anything that really attempted the grotesque: an unadulterated look at the repercussions stemming from the legends that shaped early Ireland – where the humans and the fey brokered a deal that banished feykind from our world. You could imagine that if the stories of early Ireland were true, there would be a race of otherworldly, powerful creatures who’d be pretty pissed off about their present situation; who do not play by our rules; who hold a several thousand year grudge against the entirety of our species, and who are intent on getting back the thing they lost through the most vicious and brutal means possible.
That legend opens the possibility of a world where the veil between us and them has thinned, and They want to return. The result is a dystopic universe where teenagers are Called – lifted from our world for three minutes and four seconds (in our time), to be challenged in the realm of the Sidhe. If you don’t know what that parenthetical note suggests, it means very simply that time moves differently in the world of the Sidhe. Three minutes and four seconds is hours – a day maybe – where an unprepared teenager must endure being hunted for what they are with the understanding that the condemnation against them is that they were never born innocent.
Those teenagers return more often dead than alive, and those who survive suffer from a variety of ailments that are as difficult as post-traumatic stress, and as awful as being contorted, warped, broken down, and put back together into something far more monstrous than you can conceive of because there is no magic quite like Theirs, and they want revenge on each and every last one of us.
What we’re looking at in The Call is the potential irradication of the human species, and story-wise, it’s spectacular.
I shouldn’t need to tell you I loved this book, but I will: I loved and devoured it.
The protagonist, Nessa, is from the onset at a disadvantage because she suffered polio as a child and the odds are already stacked against her: she’s crippled, and she must endure the training that all teenagers must go through in order to survive their Call.
When you arrive in the Grey – the realm of the Sidhe – you arrive buck naked. Kids train barefoot and are taught first and foremost that they must run if they want to survive. Nessa punishes herself every inch of the way so that she can be ready: she’s determined to survive, she’ll fashion crutches for herself from trees, she runs though she’s slower than everyone else, and she develops incredible upper-body strength. She can climb. She can hide. And yet those who are stronger, faster, braver than her – they come back from their Calls dead.
The odds don’t look good.
As a reader, you get to experience multiple points of view throughout the story, and accordingly, you get to experience first-hand accounts of the encounters of the other students as they are maimed, slaughtered, and delivered back into their world. You get to experience the teachers’ breakdowns, and the looming surety that Nessa will not endure what’s to come.
It’s a multi-faceted narrative that paints a gloriously gory picture of the shift of power in a world where humanity is losing, and worse, you come to realize that in spite of all the Faery insanity, there are still atrocious human beings in the midst of this society who are just as monstrous, if not more so, than the monsters themselves.
Exceptionally crafted, wonderfully told, a unique take on the dystopian scenario with fantastic creatures, and fabulously grim – exactly the way I like my horror delivered. I’m not sure if this means we’ll see an upsurge in fairy-related fiction, but if we are, I think this is the start of something awesome.