In advance of my turn on the tour for the sequel tomorrow, I feel that I must share with you a review of Savage Island, where Bryony Pearce’s saga begins.
Savage Island is a deeply clever account of secrets, lies, family and friendship under strain set amidst a high stakes Duke of EdinburghXgeocaching treasure hunt, with reflections back on childhood creating moments of considering how we would react in the same circumstances and what that means for us, those around us and humanity.
Absolutely gripping and PACKED with jaw dropping twists, like even I didn’t see them coming and I’m usually good!! I read Savage Island in one greedy gulp hours after
bawling my eyes out finishing Squid Game on Netflix and whilst they are indeed very different, I think it’s a great distraction read for younger teen readers who really shouldn’t be watching but also a good follow on read for older teens and young adults who have watched the series and want more.
Content Warning: Blood, Violence, violence against children, violence against females, knives, Tooth pulling, wounding, murder, stabbing, disfigurement, threat to life, amputation of limbs (off page), amputated body parts, Psychedelics (mushrooms), Alcohol, Painkillers (Tramadol), threatening of suicide, suicide attempt (off page), self harm scars. Emotional and Psychological Abuse.
Ben always has to look out for his little brother Will. He’s… special, Mum insists, advanced for his 16 years so much that he has won a place at Oxford, but she also insists Ben must give up his uni dreams to be close to protect him.
So when his lifelong unrequited crush and best friend Lizzie insists that their friendship group repeat their Duke of Edinburgh Award success in a Iron Teen tournament as a last hurrah after they leave Sixth Form, he thinks what could possibly go wrong, and maybe he could use his £1 million prize money to get his engineering degree after Will graduates.
But as soon as they arrive at the island, Ben, Will, Lizzie along with Conspiracy fan Grady and carefree Carmen find things start to go wrong, and it turns out this is much more deadly than a regular geocaching treasure hunt. The stakes are much higher.
“What kind of people are we?”Lizzie
Every now and then a mass kill-or-be-killed ‘game’ narrative comes along and sweeps the public mindset in a zeitgeist. Often it’s films such as Running Man, Hunger Games or my personal favourite and vastly superior Battle Royale, and sometimes it’s through the books or manga they were born from and sometimes like most recently the Netflix colossus Squid Game which was always designed as a series either way, when they’re good… oh my, they’re awesome.
Regardless of whether the circumstances are for simple survival, ritualised punishment, an experiment or entertainment of the masses or indeed bored rich people; the underdog story against the most brutal and unlikely of odds has the power to move generation after generation especially when the context reveals and explores the uncomfortable truths that people struggle with in the real world.
Savage Island despite its much lower body count stands with the greats of this genre, because of its clever blending of the recognisable within a resonant context. Like Squid Game its scarier than say Collins’ Hunger Games because Savage Island is not dystopian SFF, it’s fully based in our world with recognisable motivations, personalities and struggles. It’s less comfortable because scritch-scratching at our comprehension is the realisation that this is all too believable, that like Grady we could believe this conspiracy really happens behind the veil of money and secrecy that the super rich can afford.
It’s a scathing look at capitalism in the 21st Century and what it takes to be successful in such a cutthroat world.
“There has to be someone at the end of this…doesn’t there?”Ben to Will
It’s also brilliant for the way it focuses more on introspection, personalities and personal histories than stereotyping ‘us v them’ ‘district v district’ and so forth.
We care deeply about this team because we have invested in them by the asides within the chapters as Ben tells the backstory, and reveals little by little the way he is manipulated and that he isn’t quite protecting his little brother from the world as everyone thinks. The personal issues between brothers, the quiet wounds between friends come to light as the tension rises as years of hurt spiral out in moments of panic.
This is a much more person-centric crisis than many similar novels especially as we observe this tale from Ben’s first person perspective. It’s also quite remarkable in that whilst we want our team to survive, Bryony manages to do this largely without blandly washing the other teams as ‘the bad guys. Instead we see it as the choices of individuals, those who choose to sit on the docks and wait it out, to those whose teams turn on them, and those who immediately accept the terms of the game and cause havoc.
“You know you can’t go…you know in your heart Ben…How would you feel if something happened?…You know I’d die if something happened…We need you Ben remember that”… her sleeves were pulled up and her wrists turned out. See Ben, see what happens when you drop the ball.Ben & Will’s Mum to Ben.
Furthermore it is a chilling look at mental health, especially in young people and the failures of safeguarding in how psychological abuse has gone on for so long unchecked, and furthermore the unsettling truth of how many parents make allowances and excuses for disturbing behaviours in their children that cultivate the most dangerous kind of psychopathic young adults rather than risk the ‘shame’ of accepting help and early intervention to help form healthy mindsets. Bryony manages this without damning the neurodiversity of psychopathy, just the way society brushes it under the carpet in the hope it doesn’t stain when it seeps through.
I thoroughly recommend this book to fans of this genre and indeed to teens who may have begged to watch Squid Game, but parents are hesitant to expose to that level of violence. This whilst brutal is softer within the realms of YA/Teen literature, and Bryony has done her utmost to respect the reader with thrilling writing but holding their hand just enough.
Savage Island by Bryony Pearce is published by the Red Eye Imprint of Little Tiger Press
Thank you for my review copy!