You know how if you really love a book it’s hard to rationally recommend it to people, you just push it on them saying “you just have to read it, it’s brilliant, just read it”? Well, The Call is a bit like that for me. Sometimes it’s harder to review a book you loved than one you quite liked, or one you hated. I am not quite sure what I expected from The Call, but I can tell you I was surprised by how much I LOVED it. I fell headfirst into the world of the book and only emerged twice – once to seriously consider putting it in the freezer because I was freaked; and once when my other half looked over and said “Jesus! Your face!” because I was reading through a distorted mask of facial tension. It’s that good.
The Call is like a mash-up of the darkest parts of Irish mythology and teen survival stories… albeit more Battle Royale than The Hunger Games. Let’s call it fantasy horror folklore, if we must genre it at all. Set in an Ireland where the Sídhe (fairy folk) have sealed the borders of the island and ‘call’ the youth of Ireland one by one to fight for their survival in the Grey Land where the Sídhe were banished thousands of years before. The call lasts three minutes of our time; twenty four hours of theirs. But the Fair Folk don’t just want to hunt their prey… they want to play with it.
Our heroine Nessa is a student at Boyle Survival College, one of several schools throughout the land where young people prepare for The Call that hardly any survive. They train to fight and to hide, study hunt theory and learn the enemy tongue – but for 25 years the population has been rapidly dwindling. Nessa is intelligent, beautiful, and a total badass who is determined that her disability will not stop her surviving the Call. Her pacifist vegan love interest Anto was definitely my favourite character (what? ethics and empathy are sexy!), and unusally for a teen ensemble piece the supporting characters were well developed. But it is well structured plot, the skillfully built up tension, and the twisted brilliance of the scenes in the Grey Land that sold me on this one – honestly don’t ask me to summarise it. Just read this one asap.
This is the very definition of YA not just being for young adults, it is a stonker of an adult read. That said, if you have young people in your life – they need this book and you should buy it for them immediately. Parental types – many are the excellent life lessons. Aunts/Uncles/Older siblings – there’s also loads of warped scary gross stuff, it’s a cool book to give, and the season of giving approaches!
Author Interview – Peadar Ó’Guilín
I met Peadar at the Easons brilliant DeptCon2, and despite my initial nervous burble I got it together enough to ask him to grace the blog with an author interview, which he did, because he’s only marvellous:
Welcome to Eats Plants, Reads Books Peadar! First up – I absolutely loved this book, it’s unquestionably one of my books of the year. When did you get the idea for The Call, and can you tell me a bit about the process of writing it?
Thank you! I always think you need to marry at least two separate ideas together to form a book. In this case, the first idea was just an image of somebody disappearing in the middle of a crowded room. Where had they gone? What was happening to them? The answers to these questions were provided by earlier short stories I’d written about the Sídhe and my conception of what their homeland must look like.
Did you spend a lot of time researching the Sidhe/Tuatha de Danann/faerie folk, or did you draw more on your cultural memory of these stories?
No. I did no research outside of what I grew up with. But that was considerable and I had always loved the stories, so a lot of it stuck. I didn’t worry about changing things, though. I’m a writer: I love to make things up and I’m pretty sure there’s not one person who touched those stories over the centuries without altering them in some way.
Despite the fantastical premise, this book felt totally grounded and real. Reading it I wondered what my impression would be if I wasn’t Irish/aware of Ireland’s folklore… was it hard to pitch to publishers outside of Ireland?
Not at all! You have to remember that a lot of people read SF and Fantasy, not because they want to visit the same old places again and again, but because they’re looking for a book to take them somewhere truly different. The UK and US publishers both bought publishing rights straight away. And a lot of translation deals are in the works too. I think the words “evil fae” are enough to get readers of any culture on board!
All of my favourite books growing up were, if not horrific, at the very least unnerving in some way. Why were you drawn to write something with such dark content? What are you most afraid of?
Drowning. Smothering, that sort of thing… The combination of terror and inevitability is particularly awful for me.
Do you have a favourite character in The Call, and why?
Nessa of course. But the most fun for me to write was Megan because she is so very different from me and can say all the things I only dare to think.
Nessa is a brilliant lead character, one of the strongest young women I have ever encountered in YA. Did Nessa always have a disability when you thought of the book, or was this something you added later?
Yes, from the very beginning she was going to be lame. The only question was the cause. I interviewed two different friends about this but in the end, for personal reasons, I opted for Polio.
Conor is a real piece of work! Do you think it is important for YA books to include characters that are bullies? Do you think exposure to bullying is part of everyone’s experience of growing up?
Bullying was certainly part of my childhood and I’ve had a hatred of it ever since. I think I failed with Conor a bit. I should have tried to understand him better, but in the end, I made him a total monster.
In the world of the The Call, there is a huge emphasis placed on the importance of physical strength, and a very literal focus on survival of the fittest. Strength of will and character aren’t important, and both morals and emotion are viewed as weaknesses to be suppressed. Do you think this is a dangerous approach, and why?
Well, I don’t think it was the world that was suppressing the emotions so much as Nessa was trying to suppress her own. She thinks she has to squeeze every distraction out of her life in order to survive. I don’t know if such an attitude is dangerous or not. Certain approaches work in particular situations and fail in others. But I do know we humans are social creatures and that it’s almost impossible to separate yourself completely from your feelings.
The Sídhe in the book are beautiful and terrible, and the passages set in Fairyland are full of horrible images and unspeakable suffering. And yet – the description of their banishment to this world by us, cut off from their beloved Many Coloured Land of Ireland, living immortal lives in a timeline where 3 of our minutes are 24 of their hours… it is hard not to feel some sympathy for them. Do you empathise with the Sídhe? Do you think they were capable of such terrible things before their banishment, or have humans helped make them what they are?
The Sídhe of my book were human before their exile. I have always believed that mistreatment of one people by another is a surefire way to create monsters. I fully intended the readers to feel a little sympathy, although I have to admit it’s difficult!
The characters in the book speak Sídhe instead of English, initially to help teenagers survive the call, but it is gradually taking over as the main language in Ireland and adults can no longer communicate with their children as a result. At the same time we are reminded that the Sídhe always keep their promises, because keeping their word increases their power. As a writer, words are of course incredibly important to you – could you tell us your thoughts on the power of language, both within the world of the book and to you personally?
Well, people speaking the language of a hated and murderous enemy in order to survive happens again and again in world history. Languages die out every day as a direct result of this and every time it happens a whole universe dies with them. I’ve learned a few other languages over the years and every one of them has amazed me with its wealth and beauty.
I’m pretty sure if I was in The Call the best I could hope for is a fate like Meghan’s, while a tiny, terrified part of me wonders if when tested I would turn out to be more of Melanie. Be honest – how do you think you would fare?
I’d be dead within minutes. I’m slow. I’m clumsy. I stop running when I’m surprised by horrific and unpleasant sights. But the thing about the Grey Land, is that luck always plays a part in the outcome. Even an idiot like me might survive if he just put his head down and ran. Anything can happen.
What are you currently working on – can we hope to return to the world of The Call again?
I’m working on a sequel right now. There is no name for it yet. The Call 2? The Answer? Everything sounds terrible!
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you or your work?
I’m just grateful to anybody who has spent time on my books or short stories. I owe my readers everything. But I guess you know that 🙂