While at YALC in London back in August, I got an ARC of Ó’Guilín’s debut novel and it was the first of several I picked up and began reading.
I had heard that it was compared to The Hunger Games, although I actually do not think the books have much in common despite children having to survive in an unknown area in a matter of life and death.
The Call is based on an idea I find really original and terrifying. Ireland as we know it today does no longer exist. The Sídhe have taken over control and sooner or later, each child is called by them. They then find themselves in an unknown land, completely naked and without any weapons or help. While their bodies reappear in their own world after only 3 minutes, they have to make it 24h in the world of the Sídhe. 24h where they are hunted, played with, tortured and, in most cases, killed. The ones that make it back, more or less alive, try to prepare the world for what is to come and train the next generations for their seemingly forlorn battle.
And for the protagonist Nessa, the situation does seem forlorn. Named Clip-Clop by her fellow students at her survival college because of a disability impairing her legs, nobody believes in Nessa surviving. However, Nessa is strong and determined to return from the strange land. I immediately liked her. She may not be the typical heroic protagonist from her looks, but she is in control of her own destiny and takes it into her own hands. More specifically, she literally takes it into her own hands, coming up with ways to keep up with the other students despite her disability. We see far too few characters with disabilities and way fewer in Dystopian and Fantasy stories. Nessa makes you believe that anything is possible and even if a situation might seem pointless, there is always a way to make it work.
Besides Nessa, we get to know a lot of characters during the story. Whenever one of the more active secondary characters gets called, Ó’Guilín has written a short chapter about their experiences in the land of the Sídhe. At first, I thought this might get boring after the 4th or 5th character is called, but every Call is different and you can see the true identity of someone by their way of acting facing death. We also get glimpses into various characters’ lives after they survived the Call and in this sometimes was as scary as reading about the actual horrors, mutations and tortures.
Since the first chapters, I had no idea where the story might lead. I am still not sure how it ended. There is a lot of potential and I would not be unhappy if The Call were only the first book in a series. I need answers about the Sídhe, where they came from and what their plans are. Although the uncertainty and mystery surrounding them is thrilling and one of the reasons I enjoyed the book, sometimes you just want answers.
If you are squeamish, this probably is not the right book for you, though if you love a good portion of horror and can be inspired by a strong protagonist, I can highly recommend it.