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If you're within the sound of my voice -- or, more appropriately, the sight of my written words -- please take this as a given: I want to sit you down, shove this book into your hands (or the audiobook into your ears), and insist that you enjoy it. Now.
It may be easy to overlook what a stunning achievement this novel represents, but that's because Peadar Ó Guilín makes it seem so effortless as he draws the reader on from one page-turning moment to the next. It is a stunning achievement nonetheless, with its meditation on how a people's history returns to them for rectification; its all-too-relevant consideration of mass culture during its descent ("I don't care if I don't make it... I mean it. The country is done for, and we all know that's the truth. Aiofe is right. Even the survivors have nothing to look forward to except decline..."); its seamless world-building, folding real and mythic Irish history, language, and poetry into its storytelling ("Never has a generation of Irish children been so aware of its own folklore"); its related and stunning sense of place; and its utterly compelling depiction of a three-dimensional, dynamic, and partially (and permanently) disabled heroine.
I don't sell young adult dystopias short, but I also feel confident in saying that The Call transcends the labels others would place on it. Both adult and YA readers of science fiction, fantasy will find much to appreciate here.
The premise is this: Ireland is a nation cut off from the rest of the world, plagued by terrible retribution. Thousands of years after the Sidhe, the people of the mounds, the followers of the Goddess Danu, were displaced by the Irish and banished to a colorless netherworld, they have returned with a vengeance to destroy those who removed them. Every Irish child will face the three minutes of the Call during his or her adolescence. Few return alive, and most of those are twisted beyond recognition. Nessa, whose polio-twisted legs all but promise she will not outrun the Sidhe when her time comes, stubbornly prepares to meet the Call and win her survival.
What I appreciate most -- and that's saying a lot, considering how much I love about this novel -- is the nuanced, insightful way The Call handles the question of, and challenges readers about, conquest and conflict. What are the causes and costs of war? How we determine who is responsible? What does it mean to be guilty/innocent or winning/losing?
Take for instance this passage:
"'Listen,' he says, 'we don't need the Sidhe to teach us evil. We were the ones who put them in the Grey Land, remember? And not just for a day or however long it is the Call lasts. We Irish... we trapped an entire race of people in hell for all eternity just so we could take their homes for ourselves. You can read it in The Book of Conquests. I mean, look at it from their point of view.... There they were, a few thousand years ago, living in a place they loved so much that they called it the Many-Colored Land. Then this other group arrives, pretty much the same as them, speaking the same language even, except this new lot -- our ancestors -- were the first in the world to have iron weapons. They thought it gave them the right to take everything! Everything!'"
And this one:
"'How long must I wait?' she asks the mirror in Sidhe.
"As a survivor, she doesn't need to speak the language anymore. But many like her are more comfortable in it than English, and since they have no choice but to marry each other, the primary schools of the country are filling with tiny tots whose innocent mouths spout the long-dead language of their distant ancestors, which also happen to be the living, never-changing tongue of the enemy. Some day, she thinks, we will be them, a greater victory for the Sidhe than if they kill us all."
Like all great speculative fiction, The Call provides us metaphors by which we can question our condition and examine current issues in our world today. It also provides a window into history, art, and our common humanity. And it does so while providing a chilling and fascinating ride.
Amy Shiels' beautiful narration helps ground the text in its Irish context and bring the characters to life.
27 of 28 people found this review helpful
Not as horror filled as some reviews would have one believe but definitely a dark story. However, it has plenty of hope, love, and charm to stop it from being a total downer. It's intelligent and raw fantasy at its best. Defiantly check it out if you're into grown up fairy tales where not every ending is happy. Also, please listen to the narrator audio sample, I personally loved the thick accent and thought it added much to the story but it might not be for everyone.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful