Peadar O’Guilin has crafted a riveting and imaginative YA novel that doesn’t talk down to its audience. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic Ireland where children of a certain age sit and wait in fear to be snatched for three minutes by the Sidhe (vicious faeries).
Time is different in the fairy world, where three short minutes amounts to 24 hours of terror. The kids are packed off to boarding schools across the country to learn to protect themselves, with few returning from the horror that awaits.
We meet Nessa at the age of ten as she celebrates her birthday with her parents, her excitement turning to alarm as she is told of what awaits her. Four years later she has settled into her ‘survival’ school. She hangs out with her best friend, Megan, who is confident in personality and self-defence skills, quick-witted and very protective of Nessa. Also introduced is Anto, a smart and able pacifist who Nessa has a serious crush on.
O’Guilin ably conveys the mindset of a teenage girl who knows what she needs to do to survive, but still can’t help feeling that tingling sensation of young love. She’s a superbly shaded in character, and her disability doesn’t shape her, but the fact that she can’t walk unaided does allow the writer to address certain real-world concerns regarding backward attitudes. Nessa is not a character who we are asked to feel sorry for, but to empathise with. Notions regarding class and entitlement are accessibly explored through Nessa’s rocky relationship with the school bully.
The author has a handle on radiating the sense of dread all the students feel. When the teenagers enter the fairy world the description is gratifyingly gruesome, there are cloaks made of human lips and monsters who can twist the human form in horrible ways. All in all, it’s a curiously imagined and wholly engrossing reading experience.