Published by Razorbill on June 12th, 2014
Genres: horror, young adult
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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?
I first want to talk about the design of The Merciless in hardcover because it is magnificent. The book is ‘leather’ bound with a nice bumpy texture to it. The pentagram design is printed right onto it, and yes, it is that bright in person. It has deckle edges. It kind of reminds me of a journal. The inside flaps are black, printed with more pentagrams and a warning that this book is for mature readers only. In short, it’s awesome, and if I had seen it in a bookstore I would have bought it without reading the synopsis. This design speaks to me, guys.
The rest of the book, however? Fell a little flat. This is mostly due to the shallow characters. The trio of ‘good Christian girls’ doesn’t ever go beyond ‘good Christian girls.’ They have a strange dynamic between the three of them, but Grace and Alexis just sort of follow Riley blindly for no apparent reason. Alexis’ devotion to Riley makes a little more sense since they’ve been friends since childhood, but Grace is relatively new to their town so I don’t understand why, when shit got baaaad, she didn’t snap out of it. The only person in this book with any type of sense was Sofia, but ultimately she wasn’t a very interesting character.
Sofia. There were some interesting aspects to her character. She is of Mexican descent and her grandmother used to tell her all kinds of religious stories from her native country. But Sofia’s mom is sort of anti-religion so Sofia was never raised with any faith. This doesn’t stop her from being incredibly interested, which is how she fell under Riley’s spell in the first place. And Sofia has some dark secret from her past which ends up being kind of cool, but since it wasn’t revealed until the final pages of the book, it didn’t have too much bearing on the story.
Now, despite it’s bland characters, The Merciless could be described as anything but. There is a LOT of gore. It starts probably 20 pages in and doesn’t let up until the end. Riley has it in her head that another girl in their school, Brooklyn, has the devil in her and needs to be exorcised. So she, Grace, and Alexis do what any normal teenagers would do: they kidnap Brooklyn, tie her up in a basement, nail the windows shut, and perform a DIY exorcism on the poor girl. They burn her. Riley slices off the tip of Brooklyn’s finger. There are stab wounds. There’s a suicide. It is crazy. And relentless. The dialogue was a little wonky, but the action was on point. You could feel the tension in the air. Sofia had been unwittingly invited to this hellish house in the middle of the night – she knew it was all kinds of bad and spent the majority of the night attempting to save herself and Brooklyn from these monstrous teenage girls. Her fear was palpable. I was on the edge of my seat wondering what Riley could cook up next.
The ending could go either way for readers. Personally, I enjoyed it. But that’s because I really love religious horror. As an atheist, I had room to be offended by the ending, but ultimately I felt it was a clever twist.
In the end, I highly recommend The Merciless. This is a nonstop ride straight to hell that will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. A perfect read for Halloween.