The Call by Peadar O’Guilin (first published in 2016 by David Fickling Books)
Peadar O’Guilin’s book is a novel I’ve been hearing about a lot over the last couple of months.
And with good reason because it features a strong-willed heroine, disabled by polio, in a battle to survive and prepare for The Call – an event that forces all those eligible to participate in a fight for their lives in the space of three minutes and four seconds.
Sounds, intriguing, yes?
Well, it’s certainly that and more.
For one, disabled heroines in fiction are pretty rare. Disabled protagonists in dystopian horror novels? Practically unheard of, and something that immensely appealed to me.
Here we have a heroine who has everything going against her. She’s been crippled by polio and attends a survival training college where she endures being mocked by her peers and where almost everyone, including her own parents, bet against her chances for survival.
Blending a combination of Irish folklore and mythology, Peadar O’ Guilin’s The Call is a novel that is both a dystopian fantasy and a work of horror.
Training for the fight against the Sidhe (faeries who occupy the Grey Land), Nessa and her friends have to endure rigorous tests; from hunting obstacles to outwitting their classmates in a series of tests, all in preparation for the day they’re called by the Sidhe to fight.
The story takes place in post-modern Ireland in an area known as the Grey Land – a space occupied by trapped fairies, hostile plants and other deadly creatures. Nessa and her classmates’ training takes place in what’s left of Ireland, while the actual call transports them to the dangerous wasteland that is the Grey Land.
When the call happens, all that the individuals are left with are 3 minutes and four seconds to navigate their way through the land without being caught in the hunt that commences the very moment they arrive.
Those who are lucky to survive and get back to Ireland, are often changed in grotesque and unimaginable ways.
Peadar O’ Guilin’s The Call is quite a brilliant read. It’s a testimony to the perseverance of human nature and takes a look at what happens when the will to survive is stronger than the insurmountable obstacles before you.
It’s also a book that lulls you into a false sense of complacency.
It’s written in a way that at first seems targeted towards a very young audience, but it quickly becomes clear that it’s anything but that. It’s a book that’s brutal, intense and often gory in places, but that only highlights the strength of Nessa as a protagonist.
She’s resilient in the face of bullying, training and her take-no-prisoners attitude is both balsy and admirable. She refuses to be pitied because of her disability, and often uses her so-called weaknesses to blindside people who underestimate her.
She’s honestly one of the best heroines I’ve come across in fiction this year.
While the story mainly focuses on Nessa, we are given glimpses into the points of view of others who find themselves in The Call. It’s a grim and dark look at what happens when survival instinct kicks in and fight or flight takes hold.
Another aspect that I loved about this book is that the villains aren’t quite as black and white as you’d think they’d be. There are nuances that make this read more in-depth than it initially appears and the twists, turns and betrayals will make your jaw drop.
All in all, The Call had me glued to its pages and has me salivating over the potential for a sequel. I’d love to see where Nessa’s story goes next.
Also, a huge shout out to the author for not using the protagonist’s disability as a mere prop to invoke sympathy and see her as “other”.
Read this book. It will give you goosebumps.