Hardcover, 279 pages
Published June 12th 2014 by Razorbill
Format read: E-ARC via publisher
Sofia is new in town, desperate for a fresh start at her new school. On her first day, she meets three seemingly perfect girls who invite her into their circle.
Sofia's expectations are shattered when her new friends kidnap Brooklyn, a troubled classmate, and attempt to save her. The girls stage an exorcism, but their efforts spiral wildly out of control.
Over the course of one weekend, Sofia will learn more than she ever bargained for about friendship, secrets, and the terrifying darkness of the human soul. In an astonishing final showdown, Sofia will learn who is good and who is evil. What she discovers is the biggest surprise of all. . . .
Like so many other stories that begin the same way, we're introduced to Sofia just as she's about to start a new school for the first time. Sofia's spent a good deal of her life bouncing around from place to place, so she's surprised when she almost instantly catches both the attention of Brooklyn a.k.a. the resident odd-ball, and the school's group of popular (and mean) girls.
Not surprisingly, there's a dark past between Brooklyn and the popular girls, and Sofia quickly finds herself caught in the middle. One thing leads to another, and Sofia is soon involved in a vicious exorcism that will change her life forever…
While Vega does a great job of writing Sofia's initial transformation from a new high school outsider to a girl who gets caught up in something that's completely beyond the realm of her control, and also subtly discussing the peer pressures that rule high school culture, the rest of the story falters in comparison.
A significant part of the problem with The Merciless is the writing. Vega never delves deeply enough into the characterizations or the psychosis that drives the characters as they band together to exorcise Brooklyn. We're given a lot of details and justifications for their decision to essentially kidnap a classmate, but nothing that would actually make a reader understand it on a deeper level.
This lack of characterization becomes especially problematic as the exorcism begins to go south, and the girls begin resorting to increasingly vicious behavior. Because we haven't really understood these girls on a deeper level, a lot of the ensuing drama comes off as something that is designed to shock the reader, verses something that is actually adding to the overall plot or the depth of the story.
Though Vega manages to eventually tie the story up with an ending that will likely surprise a lot of readers, I got to the end and went, "Well. I saw that coming." I'm not a big fan of horror movies or books either, so the fact that I could see that coming is probably indicative of both plotting and writing issues.
Also, readers should know that this book is not for the faint of heart. Vega is not afraid to pile on the gore or the violence, and there were fairly graphic descriptions of scalps being ripped out and appendages being lost. I definitely found myself cringing while reading certain scenes - especially near the end- and I definitely wouldn't recommend this book for younger readers.
I would recommend this book for fans of the Scream series and The Craft.
About the author:
Danielle Vega spent her childhood hiding under the covers while he mother retold tales from the pages of Stephen King novels instead of stories about princesses and dwarves. Now an adult, she can count on one hand the number of times she's been truly afraid. Danielle has won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction, including a 2009 Pushcart Prize nomination for her short story "Drive." She lives in Brooklyn.