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SAVAGE ISLAND ****
BOOK REVIEW - Written by Bryony Pearce. RRP £7.99, Paper back, 416 pages.
Released in the UK by Red Eye 5th April 2018
''What if you were geocaching and you found a finger in the box?'' is the delightfully grisly premise behind Bryony Pearce's cracking teen thriller SAVAGE ISLAND, the latest from Red Eye, Stripes Publishing's young adult (YA) horror range.
Multi-billionaire Marcus Gold is offering a million pounds to each winning team member that completes his mysterious Iron Teen competition that, very suspiciously, happens to take place on an isolated island in the Shetlands. An island without phone reception or any obvious means of escape. Our protagonist Ben and his three companions; Lizzie (his best friend and unrequited romantic interest), Grady (nerdy outcast and conspiracy theorist), Carmen (free-spirited wannabe vet) and his emotionally unstable younger brother Will jump at this offer; clearly having not learned from Willy Wonka and Michael Jackson that eccentric billionaires shouldn't be trusted with the under 18s. Once on Aikenhead Island they must compete against 9 fellow teams of ruthless teens to solve riddles and open geocache boxes dotted around the wild landscape. Boxes whose contents they then must replace with items of equal or greater value. They soon regret ever entering when, what starts out as a singularly tough Duke of Edinburgh type jaunt, quickly descends in to a nightmarish ordeal of unnecessary dental surgeries, magic mushroom hallucinations, amputations, quicksand traps and Jelly Babies.
This book is aimed at the YA market and, as a 26 year old, I am somewhat out of this intended demographic. I therefore was initially wary that the novel was pandering to its young audience when, within its first two pages, it contained a reference to a character's skateboard and another playing Legend of Zelda. My attention wavered, thinking this book was not for me, during the slow introduction that was only enlivened by a lovely drawing of a seal on a flora and fauna fact sheet and an unexpected reference to David Icke (you certainly didn't get that in THE MAZE RUNNER). However, my reservations were unfounded, as once the characters reach the island and the first geocache box is opened, revealing a gruesome surprise, the pace really picks up and I was thoroughly engaged and entertained from there on out. Pearce does a great job of racketing up the tension and surprises in the latter half of the book eventually leading to a satisfyingly dark ending.
The central conceit of what you would be willing to do for a million pounds and the comparative value of your own, and others', body parts is a great hook. It makes you eager to see the characters' reactions to these moral conundrums and gets you to ask yourself the same difficult questions. Even though the characters are not hugely memorable, I still cared about what happened to them, and there were none that I was actively hoping to fall of one of the island's many cliffs which is definitely a plus for a YA novel.
The press release mentions that SAVAGE ISLAND is ''LORD OF THE FLIES meets SAW'' which is a reasonable comparison even though it contains significantly less of the religious imagery of the former and none of the Cary Elwes of the latter. A more apt comparison would be that it's the natural stepping stone from THE HUNGER GAMES to BATTLE ROYALE. It's a grislier, edgier experience than the more sterile and Hollywood-ised world of THE HUNGER GAMES but nowhere near the sheer gruesome brutality of BATTLE ROYALE. Although containing similarities to these other titles SAVAGE ISLAND is far from being a mere imitation. It has enough of its own identity and style to stand on its own amongst its peers in the 'teens doing horrible things to other teens in the wilderness' genre.
''Although we were heading into a graveyard that could contain an ambush, to open a box that could contain a human body part, it felt good for a moment to be just me, Lizzie and Will, almost like we were in Primary again.'' This quote from the novel perfectly encapsulates its exciting pulpy mix of grisly thrills and melodramatic YA teen angst. I had a great time reading it and would certainly recommend it to its intended audience of strong stomached older teens, and any adult genre fans that fancy a quick, easy read with a great premise and some fun twists and turns.
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