The Call, by Peadar O’Guilin
This offbeat YA fantasy set in Ireland has a Hunger Games feel but is more firmly in the fantasy genre. Ireland is suffering revenge from leprechaun-like creatures called the Sidhe (pronounced like Sheba but with a d) who have begun taking revenge on Ireland for a 1000-year-old dispute. For the last 25 years teens have begun disappearing for 3 minutes 4 seconds in what is now known as “The Call”. As if it were the rapture their clothes remain behind. Time is apparently compressed during that time and the victims of the call arrive in the land of the Sidhe where they are hunted and tortured. Some survive. Most don’t.
The nation has developed a system of survival colleges where teens are put through intense training to help them survive the call. Their trainers are themselves survivors. It’s into this atmosphere that Nessa, the main character and also a polio survivor, is dropped.
Because the object of the survival colleges is to toughen the students so that they can live to the age where they can have their own children the environment within the colleges is nearly as violent as what the Sidhe dole out. Cliques develop and often the most violent and semi-sociopathic rise to leadership.
Nessa, as a heroine, is interesting. Despite being post-polio she manages to get by on upper body strength. During training she’s not allowed crutches, having to improvise things during training because when called she’ll be naked and alone.
The Sidhe are bizarre little sociopaths themselves who can remold bodies with a touch. Dead or alive those called return with strange changes to their bodies or faces. The survivors are also scarred emotionally.
The story begins to turn around one character in the school, Connor, who believes he is the greatest of the students and is upset because Nessa isn’t attracted to him. While the action of the book is maintained the motivations start to get weird. Maybe it’s something teens could relate to. For me I found myself thinking “Really, that’s the secret under all of this?”
It’s an action-filled book, motivation or no, with enough weird sadism from humans and Sidhe alike to make the book memorably squirm-worthy. The end has a reasonably good feel to it though it’s clear that more books are considered, as the closing leaves lots of openings for more. It may be a tough push uphill given the few interesting additional characters beyond Nessa.
I don’t think this book will have the general appeal for adults that Hunger Games did. Nessa is no Katniss and the premise is even weirder. But for teens, and adults with a taste for Irish lore, it will be a fun adventure book.