Quote of the day: ‘A horn sounds. The Call has begun.’

When I read a review of this book back in August, I knew immediately that it was right up my street. From time to time, I delve into the ‘young adult’ and children’s genre for a break from heavy texts. Often, I find that these stories offer something different and something more enjoyable. I would even go so far as to say that this genre truly represents the genesis of storytelling. The Call is a classic example of a tale that could be told on a cold, winter’s evening by the fireside to scare the youngsters (and oldies) before bed. Within this book, there are more than enough scares to haunt your dreams.

The basic premise of the book is introduced early on to settle the reader into a terrible alternate reality. Ten year old Nessa hears her distressed parents arguing outside her room. She soon finds out that her childhood is effectively over as she is now eligible for ‘the call.’ The call can come at any moment. It comes once in your life but only one in ten survive. It is the ancient fairy people of Ireland who summon you to their dreadful world for a day of fun and games. Meanwhile, those back at home, anxiously count down the three minutes before your return.

These fairies, known as the Sídhe, initially appear to be both beautiful and happy. However, hidden beneath this facade is a burning hatred for the Irish people who stole their land centuries ago. Upon waking naked and vulnerable in their strange land, you are greeted by the sound of hunting horns as they begin their pursuit. Whether you live or die, your body is sent back and the Sídhe derive great pleasure for sending back horrific, mutilated remains to the human world. Many who return physically intact suffer irreversible mental scars of their ordeals.

Ireland today is still littered with stories and legends surrounding fairies. A quick look at this interactive map of Ireland will show that ringforts or ‘fairy forts’ are scattered throughout the land. Peadar O’Guilin cleverly builds upon these ingrained aspects of Irish history and culture to create a truly chilling tale. Throughout the story, he scatters references to famous Irish legends and texts and this greatly enhances his own tale.

The novel plays on many fears that the majority of us have. At any one moment, any character can disappear and this makes it hard to find a safe haven in sleep or amongst friends. The Sídhe inflict truly horrific bodily harm on their victims and this plays on our very basic instinct for survival. Most of those who are called are in the physical prime of their lives but still they come back twisted, mutilated and unrecognisable. These factors infect the entire story with a tense, anxious atmosphere that I have never seen before. Believe the hype, this is not a book to be read in the dead of night and this is definitely not one for younger readers.

As the story builds to its grand finale, O’Guilin impressively keeps us guessing. I didn’t know who to trust, I didn’t know who would live or die and I certainly couldn’t see how some sort of happy ending could possibly be produced. Also, O’Guilin left me wanting more and he left room to do so. Importantly, this is not done in an obvious way as the book stands very well on its own. Nevertheless, if O’Guilin does write a spin-off or another instalment, I’ll line up for the next one.

Would I recommend this book to a friend?

Yes. Non-Irish readers might find it hard to grasp certain elements of the storyline but the story is deliciously horrific nonetheless.

NOTE: This is definitely not one for the younger reader as many parts of the story are quite disturbing. I would recommend Shane Hegarty’s Darkmouth series as a suitably scary series.

Afterthoughts

  • Sídhe is pronounced SHE
  • Many of the texts and legends mentioned in this novel are ancient texts of renown in Irish folklore. O’Guilin also references some classic cultural poems and texts from the Irish language.
  • Fairy forts in Ireland are normally found today in farmer’s fields. Local people are often wary of them and stay well away. Farmers tend to work around them. Although some farmers are also said to plough right through them! Many local stories mention problems such as accidents or collapsing walls when trying to build on their historic sites. Also, a person who daydreams a lot or is different from his/her peer is said to be ‘away with the fairies.’