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The Merciless


The Merciless

In Danielle Vega’s horror debut, THE MERCILESS, high school student Sofia Flores moves to a new school every six months because of her mother’s military job and shares their home with her sickly grandmother who has not spoken since she suffered a stroke. On her first day at her new school in Mississippi, Sofia meets two very distinct people: Riley Howard and Brooklyn Stevens. They could not contrast each other more --- Riley is the pretty popular girl with the perfect home life while Brooklyn is the punk girl in the heavy black eyeliner with a laundry list of gruesome rumors attributed to her. Sofia gets taken in by Riley along with her two best friends, Alexis and Grace, who are just as pretty and perfect as their leader. Sofia slowly learns that the three girls are very religious, even going as far as baptizing her rather aggressively in the girls’ bathroom between class periods.  Then, when Riley’s boyfriend cheats on her with Brooklyn, the three girls stage an intervention in the form of an exorcism in an abandoned house. Drawn into the debacle, Sofia watches the spectacle unfold into a nightmare beyond her imagination, and what follows pushes her to her limits and makes her question everything.

Vega quite prolifically keeps up the tense pace of the story in THE MERCILESS. Even if there were things I read that did not interest me as much, I still wanted to get to the next page just to see what was going to happen anyway. My pulse raised and my breath shortened as I read certain passages. As a self-described horror fan, Vega does her genre justice by spreading chilling tension throughout the story. I also appreciated the dilemma she set up for the readers near the end of the book: what do you do when a character is both right and wrong at the same time? It stood out to me, and combined with its specific circumstances, created a gripping ending to the book.

Vega does her genre justice by spreading chilling tension throughout the story.

However, I found certain characters to be inconsistent without explanation at times throughout the story. One minute, a character would be supporting Sofia, and two pages later, they would completely forget the bond they had shared.  At other times, reasons were buried so deep in subtext that they were difficult to uncover.

My other main issue was that I felt like Sofia had almost no agency as a protagonist. She hardly ever made decisions that were her original ideas.  Except for in the first third of the book, Sofia’s decisions were usually suggested by somebody else, first. She also frequently thought about doing things that would have saved herself from her current situation, but she wouldn’t actually do them. I understood that at times fear stopped her, but every time? It became aggravating, and there were times that I found myself not rooting for her because I knew she wasn’t going to do anything to help herself. This doubly bothered me because overall, I did like Sofia as a character --- I enjoyed her voice and empathized with her at many points.  But sometimes, it was like watching a horror movie where I just wanted to scream some sense and strength into the characters because I know they do have the ability to save themselves.

All in all, this was a solid read. I would definitely say that it was stronger near the beginning, and as more and more twists starting popping out of the woodwork, the ride started to get a little bit bumpy. But I do think that Vega has created a very unique story that ended with the glinting promise of a sequel or a series (but to be frank, given the state of things on the last page, I’m not sure how exactly that would work). THE MERCILESS is at its best with its heart-pounding pace, and it delivers a worthy horror story that I do recommend for someone who’s looking for a little something different in the demons and exorcisms department.

Reviewed by Corinne Fox on June 11, 2014

The Merciless
(The Merciless #1)
by Danielle Vega

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction, Horror, Suspense
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Razorbill
  • ISBN-10: 1595147225
  • ISBN-13: 9781595147226