It’s been twenty-five years since the Sidhe began their revenge on the Irish. They were banished thousands of years ago, and now they plot to exterminate the population of the island. No one can get in or out of Ireland. There is no internet, no radio, no supplies. And every day, across the nation, teenagers are “called” into the grey land of the Sidhe, to be hunted and toyed with for a day. Some survive, returning to the place they disappeared from in the human world only three minutes after the disappearance. Most return dead, often grossly changed.
Nessa is fourteen. Her legs were twisted by polio, but she’s determined to survive her Call anyway. She trains relentlessly at her survival academy, but the enemy is getting closer, and not all enemies are the ones waiting for her in the Sidhe world.
This is one creepy book. The world Nessa lives in is terrifying. There’s no way to escape. This isn’t like a YA dystopia where the characters are going to somehow overthrow their oppressors. These characters’ oppressors are a magical race from another world who live by entirely different rules, and the only thing known about them is the scraps brought back by the few who survive the Call.
O’Guilin takes us through many characters’ trips through the Sidhe world. They are grim and mostly-deadly. The teens have all sorts of reactions – some give up immediately, some are overcome with panic, some had managed to not really believe it would happen to them despite knowing it would. O’Guilin doesn’t shy from gore or death. The characters who survive do so by sheer luck, despite their training. Most do not.
And then there’s the psychological damage sustained by a people who first have to train for survival from the age of ten, then watch most of their classmates die anyway, then spend a day in the horrors of the Sidhe world. Or the psychology of the adults who never experienced the Call but must study and train children to hide, hunt, and kill. Or the psychology of the survivors, who often come back with physical deformities, and always with mental and emotional scars, and who are then encouraged to have as many kids as possible to bolster the dwindling population. O’Guilin explores these all in alternating sections from many points of view, turning everyone’s motives into something grey and uncomfortably without reference to any kind of right or wrong. Because when it comes down to it, and survival is the only thing you’re fighting for, everything else is off the table. Philosophy in action, and all that.
It was a very good book, made even better by the audio production. I’ll be honest – I don’t often read books about Ireland or fairies. Neither one usually interests me much. I wouldn’t have picked this one out of the library if I’d seen it. It came up via Audible sometime this summer, though, and the narrator (Amy Shiels) is one of my favorites. She absolutely made this book for me. The Call is creepy and well-written and fast-paced on its own, but on audio, it was even better. I highly recommend it.