The following review is based off of an ARC I received through Penguin
The Merciless follows Sofia Flores, an army brat just trying to fit in at her seventh new school. When she meets Riley and her picture perfect friends she thinks that for the first time that she might actually have a chance to live a normal life…. And then it goes horribly wrong.
When weird girl Brooklyn invites Sofia to her party on the opposite side of town she witnesses Brooklyn and Riley’s boyfriend hooking up in a hot tub. Sofia wanting to be a good friend reports the situation to Riley who seemingly takes it well and is more worried about the state of Brooklyn’s soul than anything else. A few nights later Riley wakes Sofia up in the middle of the night claiming she needed to show her something. Sofia, not suspecting anything follows Riley to an abandoned house. Where she finds her friends ready to attempt to perform an exorcism on a terrified Brooklyn.
Merciless is pitched as being a cross between The Exorcist and Carrie. This novel does show heavy influence by both, but if I were to relate it to anything, the closest blood relative would be the 1996 teen film The Craft.
The Craft, follows the same set up: Sarah Bailey moves to a new school falls in with a group of girls, cue the insanity. There are differences. In The Craft, the group of new friends are unpopular and rumored to be witches (surprise it’s true) in Merciless, Brooklyn and her friends are the popular girls, the perfect ones that you want to be friends with. Other than their supernatural elements, both stories deal heavily with group dynamics and mob mentality and with Merciless that is where the true horror comes from.
Merciless is written like a traditional slasher film. You have your first act where you’re introduced to all the players and their relationships, you are given the set up for the violence, and then all “real” plot is put on hold as the violence begins. I say real plot because in Merciless you still learn about the characters and they still go through development. Most of the characters, specifically Sofia continue through a full character arc.
I rarely come across a decent supernatural/slasher horror novel in the teen section. I tend to blame this on the usual parameters of the section or the act of violence not translating well on the page. Even though Merciless never pushed me too far it was an enjoyable quick read and I expect that it’s just the beginning of a promising career for Danielle Vega.