David Fickling Books, out September 1
In an Ireland cut off from the rest of the world, teenagers must fight for their lives when called by the Sidhe…
There’s a scene early on in Star Trek: The Motion Picture when, in a hurry to get the Enterprise underway, two personnel are beamed aboard before the transporter is ready. Something goes badly wrong in the process and they are fused together; a few moments later, a shaken Jim Kirk is informed that “what we got back didn’t survive long. Fortunately.” That scene came to mind on more than one occasion while reading Peadar O’Guilin’s new novel, where the Sidhe – the fairies of Irish folklore – play with their teenage victims in a very body horror way.
The premise is an intriguing one: way back, the Sidhe were banished from Ireland to a different realm, and now they want their own country back. They’ve cut the entire island off from the rest of humanity, and everyone in their teens is, at some point, Called to the Sidhe realm. In our world they’re gone for three minutes and four seconds; over there, they have to survive a day. A few manage it (although quite how well they do so is open to debate) but most die. The book follows polio victim Ness, who’s now of target age, and her classmates at an academy where they’re taught survival skills… but from which they can be taken at any time.
That side of it certainly feels derivative of any number of things – Battle Royale and its remix The Hunger Games are the obvious ones – but O’Guilin makes this book work well through the characters he creates (we follow a number of them during their Call), and in the way the story is unabashedly rooted in Irish folklore. For many of his readers – to an extent, myself included – it’s something that they’ve encountered in passing, most likely through the works of Eoin Colfer, but this is not the happy skippy fairies of the Artemis Fowl books. In fact, if anything, this is the antithesis to those stories, making the Sidhe a real threat again (think the way Rob Shearman’s Dalek script reinvented the Daleks a decade ago).
It’s a fast-paced story, although there are a few things that are glossed over for the sake of a good narrative, and leaves plenty of room for a sequel. Given where some of the key characters are at the end of the book, I’m looking forward to reading it.
Verdict: A fairy-tale of a very dark hue. 8/10