Title: The Merciless
Author: Danielle Vega
Publisher/Date Published: Razorbill, 2014
How I Got This Book: Purchased myself
Rating: 3 out of 5
Much like with cinema, sometimes in life you want a subtle story with reflecting characters filled with nuance and a plot that builds and stay with you. These books are wonderful and are often the ones that win great prizes, but can often be hard work and sometimes very worthy. Sometimes in life, you just need a borderline trashy story that hooks you in and drags you along for the ride, but that you have to concede doesn’t require a great deal of thought behind it. In film, these story styles are usually found in gore-filled horror films or fluffy ‘chick flicks’ – people know what they’re getting when they go to watch these, and if they’re your genre of choice sometimes the more formulaic the story the better. Enter The Merciless, a standalone teen horror offering that combines all the bitchiness of a high school drama and the pure psychopathy of a serial killer film, all wrapped in a wonderfully obnoxious hot pink cover (daubed with a sparkly gold satanic pentagram, naturally). If nothing else, it’s a work of design genius from Razorbill – it stands out so brightly amongst the rest of my titles, and is physically very enticing with deckled edge pages and a gorgeous hardcover finish. I have heard time and time again that people have bought this book, just because of the cover design. I can understand why.
Anyway, on to the actual story! Sofia is a professional new girll – an army brat teen, she’s well versed at slipping into new schools and navigating through cliques, not outstanding enough to be popular, not odd enough to be bullied (at least not consistently). By chance at her latest school, she falls in with the popular girls – they’re beautiful, friendly, yet oddly religious and a bit well… strange. Desperate to not make waves, Sofia goes along with her new crowd and finds herself inadvertently taking part in a DIY exorcism of a girl from their school deemed to be possessed by the devil. Now this could just all seem very silly and far-fetched, but the extent that these girls commit to this ritual, nd the levels of coercion and peer pressure that goes on throughout this novel ares straight-up Stephen King. It’s at points genuinely gruesome. The downside to this is that the characterisation tends to lack any degree of subtlety and at times does read like pastiche of Mean Girls, without the humour.
It has to be said for The Merciless though, I couldn’t put it down. Well, to be more precise, I put it down on numerous occasions to get away from some of the imagery that even a desensitised soul like myself had to wince at, but I was always insidiously lured back into the story, curious to find out how it all pans out. Much like the movies, I just couldn’t look away.
In many ways, I would say this book is ideal for a film adaptation. I have heard that, somewhat inevitably, there is one in the works, adapted by Marlene King, the showrunner behind Pretty Little Liars. I would genuinely be curious to see how it pans out, although I would worry that the characters would seem even more stock when on screen, and the violence would either ascend to the point of ludicrousness, or be toned down at the command of studios. I’m not sure it would offer anything that Carrie or Mean Girls hasn’t already done. Either way, it’s one of those books that you will either love or hate, but it definitely won’t bore you.