One thing that I’m so proud of being Irish is both our mythology and our wealth of talented writers. I grew up reading Irish myths, legends, poetry, horror and most importantly, YA written by Irish writers. This is a book I wish I had when I was 15.
The Call is set in a dystopic Ireland that is cut off from the rest of Britain and Europe. The Sidhe (pronounced SHEED) now rule Ireland and take teenagers ritually via an act known as ‘the call’. Our protagonist, Nessa, is training in a survival college and is determined to survive the call. But can Nessa last 3 minutes of the call? Or in such a dangerous future Ireland can she last until she is ‘called’?
I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH HOLY FUCK. Sorry, did I say this out loud? This book has everything I love about Irish fiction and it has so many good things going for it. The presentation of Sidhe as horrifying and vengeful beings, the feeling of the setting actually being Ireland and the fantastic characters and representation kept me so engaged with everything in the story.
Starting with the world building what O’Guilin writes has the very distinct feel and taste of Ireland. The fact that it’s a near future Ireland overrun with malicious Sidhe and still feels like an Ireland I myself live in is the mark of a writer who really knows their setting. The majority of the novel is set in Boyle Survival College, located in Roscommon but there are mentions of other places like Mallow in Cork. This is a grim, brutal setting that leaves no room for forgiveness and doesn’t hold your hand. The Sidhe are beautiful as they are ruthless.
In terms of characters, we have a fantastic cast led by Nessa. Nessa is disabled as a result of complications from Polio she contracted as a child. This is something that is constantly referenced about Nessa and affects a lot of attitudes toward her and her chance for survival for when she is called. She is a strong in both body and will with an instinct to fight back and win against the enemy. She never once lets herself forget she is training for battle and judges every situation against the possibility of the call and her chance of making it. Other standout characters are Megan, Nessa’s main ally, and a couple of the teachers are also very well written such as Ms Breen and Nabil. All of which have fantastic character arcs I refuse to spoil here.
I really think that the plot was constructed very well. I never once felt like there was a calm moment or even that we were going to get a break, anytime I did allow myself a mild moment to relax I was very abruptly woken back up by a character being ‘called’ or something very violent happening. It’s fast paced and does not care about your feelings. There are moments that edge on body horror, showing the Sidhe for what they truly are vs the new image of fae being glamorous royalty only looking to mess up your day. They are the ruthless enemy, taking advantage of the time difference of our world and theirs (3 minutes in ours is an entire day in their world) to torture those they catch and even those who do survive don’t come back the same is how I’ll put it.
It’s such a relief novels like this exist to not only teach others about the real brutality behind Irish myths and legends but also to remind the younger generations of their own culture. I grew up before technology where stories of the Banshee and fairy roads were genuinely scary. The Sidhe were menacing and lived in the back of my mind. Now at least this is accessible through the likes of Peadar O’Guillin even better through the lens of YA fiction.
I highly recommend this to people who want to learn more about Irish culture, anyone who like I grew up on this stuff. Just a mild warning for younger readers with the incidents of body horror, violence and gore.