Published: June 2014
Page count: 279
Genre: Horror / Young Adult
Plot at a Glance:
Forgive us, Father, for we have sinned
Brooklyn Stevens sits in a pool of her own blood, tied up and gagged. No one outside of these dank basement walls knows she’s here. No one can hear her scream.
Sofia Flores knows she shouldn’t have gotten involved. When she befriended Riley, Grace, and Alexis on her first day at school, she admired them, with their perfect hair and their good-girl ways. They said they wanted to save Brooklyn. They wanted to help her. Sofia didn’t realize they believed Brooklyn was possessed.
Now, Riley and the girls are performing an exorcism on Brooklyn—but their idea of an exorcism is closer to torture than salvation. All Sofia wants is to get out of this house. But there is no way out. Sofia can’t go against the other girls – unless she wants to be next…
In this chilling debut, Danielle Vega delivers blood-curdling suspense and terror on every page. By the shockingly twisted end, readers will be faced with the most haunting question of all: Is there evil in all of us?
While fantasy is my favorite book genre, horror is one of my favorite movie genres, and I was just realizing the other day that I don’t read enough of it. You name a horror movie, I’ve probably seen it twice, but for some reason I don’t gravitate towards scary books as much as I probably should. So, when over the weekend I came across The Merciless by Danielle Vega, I was immediately drawn in by the understated cover design and the promise of dark, twisted horror that is at its heart, absolutely without mercy.
Clocking in at 279 pages, I blew through this baby in an afternoon. While it’s not the most original horror ever, and there were a few stumbling blocks – particularly at the beginning and very end – the middle section of the story was is a wild ride that was difficult to put down. Buyer be warned though, this is horror that I think is best suited for fans of the genre. To be quite frank about it, a layperson who doesn’t particularly enjoy scares or being grossed out by gore should probably find another book to read as this book has both in spades.
While I think that Vega nails the horrific aspects of this book, it’s the other stuff that I’ve come to look for in the novels I read that I found lacking – particularly complex characters with true blue development from page one until the end. 279 pages was just not enough space to properly introduce and develop the cast of cannon fodder characters in this novel.
Aside from Sofia and to a lesser extent, Brooklyn, we know absolutely nothing about any of the characters. What are their home lives like? What do other students in the school think of them? Why does Riley think she knows how to exorcise a demon from anybody? Because we don’t know these imperative facts about the characters, we cannot know what motivates their actions, making the majority of their decisions feel like they were generated from the stock horror movie dumb decision playbook.
For a novel that was published under the Razorbill – the Young Adult imprint of Penguin Random House – this story went heavy on adult horror content. I didn’t have a problem with it, but those looking for spooky and atmospheric horror alone should probably look elsewhere as this is filled to the brim with blood, torture and gore, as well as other adult oriented content such as drug abuse and mild sexual content.
Vega took the time to incorporate twists and turns into this to elevate it out of just being a by-the-numbers slasher, though the way that supernatural horror elements are incorporated sort of comes at a detriment to some character’s arcs. Some of the human characters in this story are deranged enough on their own that the entirety of the horror could have come from their behavior. The inclusion of supernatural horror alongside the human horror left me wondering how we were meant to feel about these characters when all was said and done.
All in all, this wasn’t a bad read. It’s extremely fast paced and full of enough horror to please any fan of the genre. The Merciless is a lot like one of those straight-to-streaming platform, independent horror films out today. Though I probably wouldn’t pay full price to watch a movie version of this in theaters, I’d gladly sit at home in the dark with a big bowl of popcorn and let this indulge the old scare center of my brain for a couple of hours.
🌟🌟🌟 = 3.5/5 stars!
Have you read this? What did you think of it? What other horror or scary reads do you love?