Monday, 3 May 2010
Review: Savannah Grey by Cliff McNish
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.
Why do publishers do this? On the front cover of Savannah Grey are the words "A monster's out there. Only one girl can stop it. But will love get in the way?" Cool, there is a monster. Only a girl can stop it? You have just lost a number of boy readers. But will love get in the way? OK, that's the majority of your remaining boy readers reaching for their PS3/X-Box/game console of choice.
There has been much discussion on The Book Zone and elsewhere as to why boys don't like female main characters, and one argument put across is that it is not actually female main characters that put them off, but instead a pre-conceived idea that such books may be a little heavy on the romance. From experience, I know that one sentence on this book's front cover will seal its fate as far as boy readers are concerned, and if I'm totally honest I nearly didn't read it myself. However, I decided to skim read the first few pages and very soon I was completely captivated by Cliff McNish's haunting and powerful prose.
What we have here is a genuinely creepy horror story, with elements of science fiction, fantasy and romance, but don't worry boys, although the romance plays an important part in the plot, it is by no means the principle theme - this honour most definitely belongs to the horror. Or should I say the Horror, for Cliff McNish's most memorable creations in this story are its monsters, one of which is known as the Horror, a petulant, hyper-active childlike monster who we first come across on page one:
"Reaching number thity-three, Savannah Grey's house, the Horror dropped its star-shaped head on one side, knotted its murderous claws behind its back and tried to work out the most entertaining way to reach her bedroom. There were many ways available, but the Horror was young and like all young things it liked to use its teeth."
The other two monsters in the story are the chameleon-like Nyktomorph and the alien Ocrassa, a parasitic entity that arrived on earth as a tiny seedling having spent millions of years travelling across the universe. The Ocrassa is the perfect organism, able to adapt to its surroundings, modifying its anatomy and abilities by adopting those of other organisms it encounters. It is also able to create other organisms, the Nyktomorph and the Horror being two such examples. The Ocrassa is on a quest to become the dominant life form on earth and ultimately have the ability to master genetic engineering and create copies of itself, and send billions of seed-pods floating trhough the universe. However, there is one huge hurdle standing in the of the Ocrassa'a goal - Mother Nature herself.
At regular intervals throughout the book Cliff McNish provides his readers with a little back story, in this case a history of the planet Earth and its organisms, and how Nature has created many of these in its endless war against the Ocrassa. Evolution, therefore, becomes Nature's weapon in this war. Throughout time Nature and the Ocrassa engage in a tug-of-war, with varying degrees of success for both parties. However, when Nature finally presents its enemy with Man the Ocrassa realises that this could become the tool it has long required to master the science of genetics, and instead of fighting it changes tactics, and fosters creativity, innovation scientific advancement across the ages.
Although exceedingly creepy, and occasionally gruesome, Savannah Grey does not contain the levels of gore that we have seen in many YA and kids' horror books, and it is all the better for this. Cliff McNish uses dramatic tension, and fear of the unknown to hook his readers. Savannah is a very believeable heroine, and we share her feelings of confusion and terror as she gradually deduces that she is more than just a normal girl, but is instead some kind of weapon created by nature to defeat an as yet unidentified foe.
Boys, please don't judge this book by its cover. If you like intelligent, creepy horror stories, or science fiction with an undercurrent of terror, then you just may love Savannah Grey. Yes, it has an important romantic element to its plot, but it does not come with all the girly frills that may detract from other stories in this genre.