BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Call’ by Peadar O’Guilin

Megan from The Call, a great minor character

The Call Peader O'Guilin cover

*This review will contain spoilers!*

‘On her tenth birthday Nessa overhears an argument in her parents’ bedroom. She knows nothing about the Three Minutes yet. How could she?’

Twenty-five years ago, the Sídhe began following through on their promise to ‘make the Irish extinct’. Because they were banished to the Grey Lands, the Sídhe vowed to take their revenge on the people who had invaded their country. The Sídhe Call Irish teenagers away: they vanish for three minutes and four seconds of our time and reappear in the Grey Lands, where they spend an entire day in the Sídhe’s world.

If the Called survive the wrath of the Sídhe, they reappear at the end of the three minutes, often bearing horrendous wounds or extreme deformities that the Sídhe have inflicted upon them for fun.

If they don’t survive they still reappear, they just become proof of exactly how sadistic the Sídhe are.

It’s common knowledge that Nessa won’t survive being Called. One of her legs is twisted due to a bout of polio after she was born, and you must be the fittest of the fit in the Grey Lands: there’s no room for disability.

Nessa is determined to prove them wrong. She takes the risk of the Call more seriously than any of her peers. No drugs, no alcohol, no relationships. Fellow student Anto is her Achilles heel, because she dreams of both of them surviving the Call and getting their own farm, but he’s a vegetarian and a pacifist. He also has no chance against the Sídhe.

The Call isn’t even the only thing Nessa has to survive. She rejects the advances of Conor, an egomaniac who dreams of being king and destroying the Sídhe single-handedly. To punish her for embarrassing him, he decides he must kill her.

With the whole world against her, will Nessa be able to prove her worth?

‘The Call’ is conflicting.

The plot is strong and the concept is utterly captivating, but the language used makes me uncomfortable. Throughout the novel the characters constantly refer to each other as ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’ and it’s gratuitous. I’m not from Ireland, so I’m not sure if this is a common thing, but it doesn’t translate well. It seemed extremely unnecessary.

I hadn’t heard of the Sídhe until I read this book, but I find them fascinating. Peadar explored many facets of the mythology surrounding them and made them terrifying in the process. I particularly enjoyed Nessa and her best friend Megan discovering a fairy mound: it makes you reconsider all the lumps and bumps in the local countryside!

Some of the characters fall flat. Conor’s constant quest for revenge was exhausting, and I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at him. There are much bigger fish to fry, and his priorities are in completely the wrong place! I also feel as though Megan had potential for development. The implication is that she’s asexual:

‘[Megan] has no time for boys, or girls for that matter.’

but the throwaway comment is not revisited. There’s also a lesbian relationship which gets revealed a couple of pages before one half of the couple is Called and brutally murdered: that’s kill your gays for ya! With such an extensive cast, I’d hoped for better representation.

That being said, the disabled rep is refreshing. I haven’t encountered a dystopian novel that’s been inclusive in the past. The majority of characters are able-bodied and don’t find it difficult to physically exert themselves. Nessa’s struggle was inspiring: she was willing to fight to survive even when it seemed completely unlikely.

I’m excited for the sequel to this novel. I wrongly assumed it was a standalone, so when I reached the end of the novel I was raging. What happened to pregnant Sherry? Has Aoife been Called yet? Will they be able to take out the Sídhe for good?

It’s difficult to believe that this is a debut novel. Peadar O’Guilin has put a horrifying twist on the dystopian genre. If you love books that are a little scarier, I’d definitely recommend this for you.