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Review: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Review: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

‘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 Devouring Gray is not the kind of book that I would automatically pick up, as horror isn’t my usual read, but Titan books very kindly sent me a sampler for it and I was hooked – I had to read the rest. I loved the concept of the Gray itself and who or what it was, which is something that unfolds throughout the story as the cast piece together fragments of what they know, their own histories, what they’ve been ‘told’ and what they’ve experienced. An interesting element of the novel is that it would seem that none of the characters are entirely truthful about much, even when trying to be honest with themselves, which leaves the reader wondering if the conclusions that they’ve reached are correct, as perceived through connotations of behaviour and foreshadowing, or if they’re being led astray. The history of Four Paths is a messy, tangled thing, to go with the messy, tangled lives of the descendants of its founders.

Of the magical elements of the story, I think May and her use of the Deck of Omens is my favourite, but I honestly love the care that has gone into creating the unique mythology and rituals of each family – both the actual rituals that characters have to undergo to embrace their powers and the quirks of how each family functions. That there are variations in abilities within families and that blood doesn’t always ring true brings an interesting twist (or twists) to the narrative, and a much more interesting cast of characters than if whole families were to have one power as standard. Part of what makes the novel well-paced is that it isn’t immediately obvious what abilities particular characters have, or they aren’t demonstrated early in the story, leaving things to discover about people, places and history throughout. One thing that I found largely absent from the writing was the use of heavy exposition, which I found to be a huge plus.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the idea of the Gray and the Beast and history versus what has been taught and believed makes for raising questions about human nature and how the past can be doctored to make of it what someone wills. It’s the attitude of the adults in the story that is perhaps one of its most disturbing features, and it makes the reader wonder if their children are ultimately set on the same path, whether they like it or not.

Ultimately, The Devouring Gray is an absorbing read with a well-developed universe within a modern setting, its magic system grounded enough that it doesn’t read as a fantasy novel, but a contemporary with horror and elements of dark magic. The narrative is particularly well-woven, no one plot-line seeming to be out of place or not integral to the main story, and each of the main characters is featured enough that, though Violet may be the initial eyes through which the reader discovers Four Paths, it’s hard to say that the story belongs to one above the others, which is a difficult thing to achieve with the number of character voices involved.

The Devouring Gray is out on April 16th in the UK! Thank you to Titan Books for gifting me a copy!