Nieve, by Terry Griggs (2010, Biblioasis, older mg/younger YA, 250 pages)
Nieve lives in the ordinary, sunlight world of a small town in Canaa. True, there are some oddish things about her life--her parents, for instance, are professional weepers. But the signs of the trouble to come were subtle, and easy to overlook in daylight-- horror is entering Nieve's world.
Here is a bit from Nieve's meeting, quite early in the book, with the Weed Inspector, a strangely creepy man growing nasty black plants from larvae....
"Are you from the city?" Nieve asked ....
"The City," he agreed. "The Black City. You're not as stupid as you look."
"I'm not stupid!" Talk about rude.
He gazed down at her, green eyes burrowing into her head as if he were X-raying her brain. "You will be. Soon. Very soon." Dribbles of mist had begun ot leak out of the seams of his coat." (page 21 of ARC)
Soon a perpetual gloom covers the town, the normal shops are being replaced by grotesquelly unwholesome establishments, and, worst of all, people have begun to disappear. Those who are left, including Nieve's parents, seem possessed. Monsters and vile creatures, straight out of the darker Celtic myths and legends, prowl the dark streets. And Nieve and her grandmother seem to be among the few people immune to the curse that has fallen on their world.
Nieve has apparently inherited the gifts of magic that will help stand against the darkness. But she doesn't have a clue what her mysterious abilities might be, and she's not at all sure she should trust the fey boy, Lias, her grandmother has provided her as a companion. However, for lack of any other options, Nieve and Lias set off to find the heart of the nightmare, into the dark undercity itself, where the hideous imaginings of a dark spirit have been brought to life (or, more accurately, death).
It is a truly nightmarish story, with vividly lurid descriptions of both the evil creatures and the horrible things being done to their human victims. It's not gore all over the place sort of horrid--more subtle evil manipulation is at work--but it still horrendous. For the horror fan, probably great stuff, for the faint of heart, possibly a tad disturbing.
And it is nightmarish in another way, too--both Nieve, and the reader, have no clue what is going on or why, and Lias, who might know more, isn't telling. For the first half of the book, this growing mystery works well, slowly building up the tension...but then, the book becomes almost non-stop action, with the clues about what is happening somewhat lost in a welter of panic. In Lias' defense, regarding explaining things--he doesn't have much chance too, what with being chased by a bevy of horrors. A few too many horrors, for my taste--there weren't quite enough still spots, where characters could get a chance to breath and develop.
Even though there was Explication at the end, I still am not sure of the Why of it all. I'm still not sure of the extent, and limitations, of Nieve's magic. And I think that page 241 out of 250 is a tad late to introduce the fact that this surface world, which I assumed was an unmagical place, actually has paranormal police officers. Sequels are in the works...but this book stands complete in itself (apart from the bigger questions, there are no dangling bits of plot qua plot).
There was, however, a rather delightful quirkiness to Griggs' writing that surfaced pleasingly at odd moments, and the black and white illustrations (some of which can be seen here) help bring the nightmarish-ness into the realm of the fascinating--it's always less scary, I think, to see things, as opposed to imagining them.
Although it wasn't quite to my taste, the fan of fast-paced, horror-filled fantasy would probably enjoy this one lots.
other reviews-Parenthetical.net and One Librarian's Book Reviews.
(disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher)