Savannah Grey: A Horror Story
by Cliff McNish
Review by Liz de Jager
Orion Childrens Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781842551127
Date: 04 February 2010 List Price £8.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
Cliff McNish was born in Sunderland, but has spent most of his life in the southeast of England. His first book was The Doomspell, inspired by a story he told his young daughter. Since then he has published The Silver Sequence and the highly-acclaimed stand-alone supernatural thrillers, Breathe (winner of the Salford and Calderdale book awards) and Angel. His books have been translated into 17 languages, and are published to acclaim in the US.
"It's a difficult time for fifteen-year-old Savannah Grey - she's settled into her latest foster placement, but her body is acting strangely. Then other strange things begin to happen: nature, it seems, is exerting an overpowering force on the world. Birds behave erratically; gusts of wind blow leaves so fiercely they seem to lure people away. And Savannah discovers she has supernatural powers. Meanwhile, she feels drawn to the new boy Reece whose life is even stranger than hers. Quickly Savannah and Reece realise that nature has a purpose for them both. For they are on course to meet the vile and evil Ocrassa, who wants to destroy the world by corrupting nature. And it wants Savannah Grey to help realise its savage intent."
What struck me most about Savannah Grey when I pulled it out of its envelope was its striking cover It's a gorgeous looking book, incredibly tactile. I had high hopes for the writing and I wasn't disappointed.
Cliff McNish is well known in the UK and in the US. His writing is very different to what some young adults and adult readers might expect – wonderfully dark and evocative of place and character, he told me that his editors were initially worried about how dark his writing is. They were concerned that readers may be put off by the darker tone of his writing and he's happily gone on to show them that if you do dark well, no matter the age-group, it's solid gold.
So, onto my review for Savannah Grey. Savannah's character is quickly delineated, without much fuss. She's a foster child and she's level headed and a good kid. She's got one best friend that she's made and kept in spite of all her moves through fostering. She has a decent relationship with her current foster mother and to be honest, everything is pretty okay. She's not really a party girl but she allows her best friend, Nina, to drag her off to a party where she meets quiet new boy Reece and inexplicably finds herself weirdly attracted to him. They chat for a bit and it's a testament to how much Reece likes her that he confides something in her - his voice tends to go strange – goes high / low, without warning – and that's due to his father performing a tracheotomy on him as a small child.
Savannah is floored by his admission. Something's going on with her too. Her throat's acting up. It's been sore for ages, to the extent where she can't really eat solid food. Odd clicking noises emanate from it and she's thinking of going to the doctor's.
As Savannah and Reece become closer, they start to figure out that they appear to be Nature's answer to stopping something as old as time itself. An enemy to all life on earth.
Savannah Grey is told from two different perspectives: most of the novel is in first person, from Savannah's perspective, the other is from the "Big Bad and his underlings" perspective. I'm sorry, putting it like that makes it sound like the novel is a confusing mash, but no – as Savannah's story develops, as she grows in realisation as to who she is and what she faces, we learn in separate chapters who the Bad Thing is, where it has come from and what it's here to do.
This is the strangest eco-warrior story I have ever read and it's also the most poignant. It's Buffy taken to another level entirely. And it stands to reason: if your monster has big claws, your hero has to evolve and have claws too, maybe bigger claws and/or teeth.
The story moves incredibly quickly - the pace is swift, it shows the urgency of Savannah's quest to find the baddie before it can fully utilise its dormant powers. The monsters in Savannah Grey are not cardboard cut-outs. They are mean, nasty things, yet McNish has managed to turn one, the right hand guy, the Nyktomorph, into something that I genuinely felt empathy for.
My only reservation is how abruptly Savannah Grey ends. I suppose it's because like all other readers I've been spoiled with the happily ever after by almost every other book, but in this instance, it's not quite what you get, proving yet again that Cliff McNish is a writer who does not play by the same rules as everyone else.
Savannah Grey is good, solid writing, with characters that sizzle and baddies that make you pray for a hero to come and save the day... for someone like Savannah, no matter how odd her own freakish powers are. It's a case of better the devil you know. If you're keen to try something different, if you've grown tired of the standard fare of the supernatural YA novels out there, Savannah Grey is your antidote. Well worth the read.