14th June, 2019

Review: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman (Titan Books)

On the edge of town a beast haunts the woods, trapped in the Gray, its bonds loosening…

Uprooted from the city, Violet Saunders doesn’t have much hope of fitting in at her new school in Four Paths, a town almost buried in the woodlands of rural New York. The fact that she’s descended from one of the town’s founders doesn’t help much, either—her new neighbours treat her with distant respect, and something very like fear. When she meets Justin, May, Isaac, and Harper, all children of founder families, and sees the otherworldly destruction they can wreak, she starts to wonder if the townsfolk are right to be afraid.

When bodies start to appear in the woods, the locals become downright hostile. Can the teenagers solve the mystery of Four Paths, and their own part in it, before another calamity strikes?

The premise of this book had me hooked immediately. Monsters, mysterious remote towns and family legacies? Oh yeah! Therefore, when I started reading I had very high expectations. And at first I had the feeling that the story would deliver. The introduction of the setting is brilliant: you can vividly picture the strange little town of Four Paths with its many trees that constantly seem to be invading the (semi)urban space. Herman's descriptions here gave me an eerie feeling of dread that reminded me of what Stephen King does in his novels when he talks about places. The writing is beautifully lyrical. So far, so good.

However... and that is a big however with giant blinking neon exclamation marks... even though we have four diverse main protagonists, I never had the feeling I could actually identify with any of them. The perspective jumps back and forth between characters and while we get to know some things about all of them, none of them reached the level of depth that I would have wished for. Instead they are defined through constant whiny teenage bickering and navel-gazing.

Then there is the monster. I did like the general idea even though the strong influence of narratives such as Stranger Things is blatantly obvious. I feel that the author could have done so much more with this though. The creepy parallel world of Silent Hill  - oops, sorry, I meant Four Paths - is an interesting topos but Herman simply leaves too much open to speculation here. I honestly believe that the story would have benefited from a little more detail about, for example, the powers of the founding families. Mystery is fine and, well, desired even but if the true dangers remain too elusive, readers end up not caring anymore, which is exactly what happened to me: I absolutely adored the first third of the book until at some point the story became more and more tedious. 

All in all, I did like this dark twisted tale of secrets and dangerous monsters in the forest. The best thing, however, was definitely the world building and I feel that I didn't really connect with the rest of the story. Maybe teenage readers will see this differently, maybe I'm just too old for all the juvenile drama involved in this book. :) Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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