Now, I’d never normally use the writer’s own self-promoting words to describe a book but this time it just felt right. This book does give one a sense of the community building and adolescent bonding from the Rowling books… but in a much, much darker world.
Despite not reading all that much in the YA genre, I’m no stranger to Peadar’s writing. Some years ago, I had read his novel The Inferior, and had found it to be brilliant, possibly even miscast as YA, because it had, in my opinion, a much broader appeal… But it should have given me fair warning: Ó Guilín does not pull his punches when he creates a world. The starting conditions from The Inferior were, to put it lightly, stark. The brilliance came from building a sympathetic storyline and lovable character born of the starkness.
If anything, the world of The Call is even darker. Its protagonists are surrounded by enemies they can’t fight or even see most of the time… but when they do, it’s alone, without friends, on the enemy’s turf, on the enemy’s terms. Most will die… and this is what is expected. Survival comes out of ensuring that the number of dead is as small as possible.
I don’t want to give spoilers here, so I’ll limit myself to saying that the academy setting of the novel does make it much more similar to the Harry Potter books than Peadar’s earlier works, and it also makes it much more YA in feel. This one is definitely, squarely aimed at the target and, from watching the adolescents I know (my wife has a couple of older kids from an earlier marriage), this is exactly the kind of book they can sink their teeth into.
YA dark fantasy is hard to do, but Peadar manages to create the perfect sense of dread and doom, a fear that sticks with you. And he does it without resorting to any cheap tricks–you come away frightened because the situation is so awful, not because someone sticks an eyeball on a pencil.
And yet, as with The Inferior, the characters attempt to bring brightness to the dark world, even playing against a stacked deck.
So this is a winner (as evidenced by the award nominations it has received), and I recommend it wholeheartedly. In fact, it’s so well done that I’d say only young adults should read it. We older adults are not prepared to see kids struggling against such horrific odds. And I hear the sequel is ever darker… gulp!
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His latest book is a comic fantasy tale set in Ancient Greece, The Malakiad.