The Story: Army brat Sofia just wants to belong. After bouncing from school to school, not to mention having a bit of an “incident” at her last school, she’s hoping her experience at her new high school in Friend, Mississippi will be different. Well. Different is a bit of an understatement. A group of cliquey girls (namely Riley, Alexis, and Grace) take her under their wing, and Sofia discovers that she can belong, and perhaps the town of Friend will live up to its name.
Until Riley sneaks into Sofia’s room and pulls her out of her house in the middle of the night…
…and leads her to an abandoned house…
…where Riley, Alexis, and Grace have a fellow classmate tied up in the basement with the intention of performing an exorcism.
The Low Down: Let’s call it what it is: The Merciless is downright creepy. Based on actual events (which makes it even freakier), it has all the elements of a first rate horror story: suspense, drama, just the right amount of gore, and prays on your fears. But reader beware… there is a mature content warning inside the front cover that mostly pertains to the violence and gore. There’s some profanity and talk of sex, but it’s nothing graphic and it all happens off-page. I will say this: the violence is pretty brutal. You don’t know a rough Friday night until you read what this group of girls does to someone they think is possessed by the devil. However, for the Stephen King fans out there, The Merciless is no worse than any of King’s classic horror novels.
The characters are difficult to describe. Riley, Lexie, and Grace are basically Mean Girls who get caught up in religious fanaticism. As the novel progresses, you can watch the degradation of each character as their intense night of torture moves forward. Vega likes to turn the tables a bit, and there are times when you truly don’t know who to root for.
If you’re like me, you’ll go through several stages reading this book.
Stage 1: “This is intriguing…”
Stage 2: “Hm. This isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.”
Stage 3: “Okay. Admittedly, that was pretty disgusti- OH HOLY CRAP NO DID SHE REALLY JUST DO THAT?!!!”
Stage 4: “Alright now I’m pissed at this chick. Girlfriend, don’t make me smack a ho.”
Stage 5: “Ok, this is getting super creepy. Maybe I shouldn’t read this before bed…”
Stage 6: “NOPE.” *slams book closed* *hurls book under throw pillow in corner of room* *kicks dirt over it*
That being said, I was very impressed with Danielle Vega’s first novel. It’s pretty rare that a book freaks me out enough to have that reaction when reading at night. Though Vega has won awards for both fiction and non-fiction, this is her first novel and I think she nailed it. The climax is super intense and keeps the reader guessing, and the ending is extremely satisfying. While not a cliff-hanger, Vega could easily tack on a sequel if she wanted to, but I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s pretty damn good as a standalone. If you’ve already read The Merciless and can’t wait for more from Vega, her second novel, Survive the Night, is due out on July 7!
The Bottom Line: Creepy as hell and not for the faint of heart (or weak of stomach) I definitely recommend this to extreme horror fans who enjoy a good story that keeps them guessing.
OFFICIAL RATING: 9/10
*If the book wasn’t scary enough for you, The Merciless was picked up by Lionsgate and will soon be terrifying its fans live and in color at a theater near you. Pretty Little Liars creator I. Marlene King is adapting the novel for the big screen! No casting decisions or release dates have been announced.
Now that I’m on a horror-kick and I have to wait until July for Vega’s sophomore novel, anyone else have any suggestions that can hold me over? Feed me some of your recommendations in the comments!