My immediate reaction on finishing:
Deliciously creepy, a masterpiece of tension. Couldn’t read it in bed, and definitely was more nervous of unexplained-but-quite-normal sounds and (of course) reflections during and since reading. There will be a fuller review soon, but in the meantime, if you’re considering this, stop thinking and read it!
Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Rowe is not the kind of person who believes in ghosts. A Halloween dare at her ridiculously spooky boarding school is no big deal, especially when her best friend Naya and cute local boy Caine agree to join in too. They are ordered to summon the legendary ghost of ‘Bloody Mary': say her name five times in front of a candlelit mirror, and she shall appear… But, surprise surprise, nothing happens. Or does it?
Next morning, Bobbie finds a message on her bathroom mirror… five days… but what does it mean? And who left it there? Things get increasingly weird and more terrifying for Bobbie and Naya, until it becomes all too clear that Bloody Mary was indeed called from the afterlife that night, and she is definitely not a friendly ghost. Bobbie, Naya and Caine are now in a race against time before their five days are up and Mary comes for them, as she has come for countless others before… A truly spine-chilling yet witty horror from shortlisted ‘Queen of Teen’ author James Dawson
Having enjoyed James Dawson’s previous books, Hollow Pike and Cruel Summer, I was certain I would like this but I was a little more nervous, as this title is billed as more definitely ‘horror’ than his previous books. I’m not really a horror reader, or a fan of the genre in film, but I do like a good urban legend, including the Bloody Mary story on which this is based.
The novel is firmly focused on a small group of teens, most of whom attend boarding school together, which lends the setting a nicely claustrophobic air. I really liked Bobbie and loved that this didn’t fall into the horror genre trap of having idiotic characters put themselves in danger in a really obvious way. I thought that the main group, and Bobbie especially, were sympathetic and realistic, and even Mary was fleshed-out enough as a character (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron for a ghost…) to avoid being cliched.
The way the story is told really ratchets up the tension. We open with a flashback to an older appearance of Mary, and the contemporary story is divided into five days, as Mary gets closer and closer. Of course, having read the cover and the blurb, we know that five days is the rule, but the poor characters do not initially have this information and have to waste time figuring out that the legend is real and they are in danger. This is just one of many details that helps boost tension and make sure we’re rooting for the characters (especially Bobbie and the smuggled-in-boy, Caine).
Caine and Bobbie’s budding romance is also a touch that I feel improved the novel, helping to build their characters as sympathetic. I’ve seen some reviews criticise this aspect as unnecessary in a horror, but I disagree – having subplots that detract from the horror aspects is actually a way to increase tension, and I also felt that this was a realistically portrayed attraction, not the maligned ‘instalove’.
Another thing that I felt really enriched the book was the mystery angle, as Bobbie uses her five-day countdown to try to unravel who Mary is and see what she wants. The references to other renditions of Mary’s legend, specifically the Supernatural episode were also very welcome. Pop culture references that make me smile are something of a staple in James Dawson’s books by now.
Finally, I must address the scariness. The novel is wonderfully creepy, with the tension managed just right. I was definitely more aware of my surroundings for a good few days after finishing it, and I would not have wanted to read it in bed, or go to sleep immediately after reading. For me, in my relative wussiness, this was about the maximum amount of creepiness I could stand without wimping out, so if (like me) you avoid horror films, don’t assume that this book is too much.
Say Her Name is out now from Hot Key Books.