by Cliff McNish
There are few well-written horror novels available for young adults, so it’s great to have a new entry that’s both intelligent and imaginative. With the visceral descriptiveness of Stephen King and a black humor all his own, Cliff McNish has created a darkly nightmarish novel with a heroine who possesses a fascinating paranormal ability. Savannah Grey doesn’t understand the dreadful thing in her throat, but she knows that she must protect it at all costs.
The narration, most of which is from Savannah’s point of view, is decisively British and strikes the appropriate tone for a teenage girl. It’s also filled with horrifyingly enjoyable, twisted humor that pops up at the most unexpected times, often right in the middle of a massive fight scene with monstrous enemies. I liked Savannah and many of the smart choices she makes, as well as how the plot zips right along from one exciting sequence to another.
What knocks this book down a whole star for me, however, is the author’s choice to leave Savannah’s POV throughout so much of the book in order to bring us the back story of the monsters that are pursuing her. This book is sorely in need of a Wise and Experienced One who explains why things are happening and what they mean, something in the vein of a Yoda, Oracle, Magnus Bane, or Haymitch. The explanations are instead big info-dumps written in the third person, treating the creatures as remarkably sentient and reasoning beings. Since these sections are written in a way that’s almost like a fairy tale, they completely interrupt the flow of the book and the urgency of action. Readers will also need to suspend their disbelief over aspects which don’t quite make sense, such as why surgeons succumb to Savannah’s demand for an operation so easily, and why she’s lived in the same place all her life if she’s really been with foster parents since she was a baby. The ending is also far too abrupt, and while it doesn’t leave the reader with a cliffhanger, it does feel as though a few additional pages were warranted for emotional closure.
Still, this is overall a very enjoyable read and clearly an author gifted with a deft and gruesome touch. Cliff McNish is definitely one to watch.
Rated 3 out of 5 stars
30-second summary: A fantastically dark and humorous YA horror novel with a strong heroine and fast-moving plot that is unfortunately slowed by an alternating 3rd person monster POV. Recommended for younger fans of Stephen King or books such as The Devouring. An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.