Cruel Castle- Bryony Pearce

Cruel Castle Bryony Pearce

SCREEECH!!! If you thought Savage Island was tricksy and brilliant you ain’t seen nothing yet. The terrifying sequel Cruel Castle ups the stakes yet concentrates the action into a claustrophobic space with the horrors of living after the events of the island and what happens when Gold wants more. 

For fans of Escape rooms whether games or books, and indeed if you are fascinated by the high-stakes games in Netflix’s Squid Game and Alice in Borderland respectively you will absolutely love this series with its no holds barred live or die series of challenges. 

Warning: By reading this review or book you must know that there are unavoidable spoilers for book 1. I HIGHLY recommend you read Savage Island so if you carry on you have been warned!! 

If you would prefer to read a completely series spoiler free review of Cruel Castle check out my Instagram post here and if not scroll on! 

Content warning: Blood, Violence, knives, wounding, murder, stabbing, disfigurement, facial disfigurement, acid burns, falling to death, threat to life, amputation of body parts, death on page. 

Cruel Castle Bryony Pearce

Time has passed since the events of Aikenhead and Grady is now on the Gold ‘Graduate’ programme in London alongside other people just like him, or apparently so as another Iron Teen winner Aanay doesn’t seem to fit the profile, and one or two seem even more dangerous. 

When Gold’s heir Christopher Gold invites a small number from the programme to the Gold family castle in Scotland, Grady suspects he is in trouble and he is right because as their dinner plates are cleared their retreat reveals a series of escape rooms with deadly consequences and one instruction, get out and  you live. But they are not alone.

Congratulations, you are all in line for a promotion. All you have to do to secure your preferment is… leave the castle. I will be watching.

Marcus Gold

Apparently Bryony wrote this after being told there HAS to be something that happens next as events closed on Aikenhead, and I’m so glad that those people persuaded Bryony to tease out this incredible thriller from her imagination.

With the freedom of us knowing the spoilers to Savage Island Bryony is able to instead expand on the meaning behind the original contests and the scheme- the collecting and honing of psychopaths to pursue goals of power, money and control and what happens behind the curtain at first seems very corporate and boring until, it frankly is not and  is much more tricksy and deeper. 

He’s groaning, in agony. Above his head the clock is still counting down….

“Grady I think you are correct,” Bella says. “This is not just team bonding.”

Picking up about a year after the events of Aikenhead rather than the immediate aftermath is clever because it gives us this incredibly clever feeling of flatness after the frenzy of the close of Savage Island. We get this aching sense of ‘was it worth it?’ as Grady is trapped and bored yet also uncomfortable on high alert as he doesn’t trust anyone around him because, like him, they had to have done something terrible to get here. 

This lull is so clever because it is a false sense of security, creeping at the edge of our thoughts is maybe Iron Teen was just a crazy one off and now the winners are on the scheme it’s all business business business…. And do as I say or I release the tapes. 

Yet Bryony absolutely blows reader minds as the plot unfolds from here to be far more complicated, dangerous and deeply insidious than ever considered possible.

“I guess we’re doing this all over again” 

Grady

The secret fugitive status of two characters  reminds me fondly of the ending of Battle Royale, however, and thankfully, instead of the botched sequel we got there with its double-down hunt for the rebels, Bryony has been much more clever and made the world so much smaller, harder, more concentrated in both time and setting.

With this enclosed environment within the castle and condensed time limits the pressure and claustrophobia intensifies to the point where it’s itching under your skin as you frantically turn pages wondering if they are going to crack each escape room in time, or who is going to be mortally wounded in the process.

This office is filled with psychopaths. I can’t be any more alert to danger than I already am.

Grady 

Much like Savage Island this is an introspective study within a thrilling action-crisis multiple first person narrative with vignettes of memory and unspoken emotions revealing undertows and secrets, lies and betrayals that bind us emotionally to the characters, and in this case, uncomfortably so considering the context of how they all came to be in the castle.

We also see the different ways that psychopathy manifests, continuing to challenge the stereotypes as Savage Island did: from the dichotomy of Bella’s sex as a weapon against Iris’ Ice Queen persona; to the brute alpha male force of the ‘clones’ contrasted with Grady’s own carefully curated ‘harmless’ beta appearance; and we are reminded not to underestimate this group, and that applies to not making any judgements about them until they show us who they are. 

But even then, Bryony has this way of making even psychopaths showing their darkness likeable, even that you can root for them. I especially found Grady’s childhood memories fascinating, especially sections where he observes Will.

In this way its more interesting because we KNOW that the dinner party guests WILL kill to survive, that’s a given, but what will they do when they don’t have to kill each other to survive, the castle is designed to kill them, but will or CAN they work together?

{redacted} is talking to himself again, he thinks I haven’t noticed but he’s staring into the mirror and his mutters are like rats crawling up the inside of the walls.

It’s something he’s been doing since leaving the island.  

Most beautifully, Mental health post trauma is quietly but clearly explored in Cruel Castle which I love because in past decades the long term consequences of such plots has been largely glossed over as not within the realms of the fiction, or a naive nod of ‘fixed by time and love’ but more recently is rightly given attention. 

We see the impact that trauma has had on a neurotypical survivor largely manifest in guilt along with concern for the family they miss whilst it’s the diverse that provide the most interesting insights. 

We are tormented by the question of whether even Grady has cracked slightly with the events, showing what may even be interpreted as concern for certain people, hesitancy. At times acting as a caregiver without the guarantee of reward/benefit, acting with what could even be considered care to prevent harm to others whilst being acutely aware of the one survivor rule from the island, something he apparently is unable to do as a psychopathic personality. We are conflicted as to consider are we projecting this onto Grady, are we hoping psychopathy much more complicated than we give credit for, or is it true? Remember we know Will ‘loved’ Carmen even if he framed it as ‘plans for’ and had strong bonds with Ben. This unanswered question still bubbles up long after finishing the book. 

I found the additional exploration of Psychopathy and dissociative identity disorders as a coping mechanism to trauma absolutely fascinating as we see hints of the regret and the mourning slowly morph into the horrific realisation of what has happened -most beautifully tying into themes from Savage Island- and not merely as a result of the events on Aikenhead.

What do you want to do?’ Grady’s voice is surprisingly gentle. I have to remember that he isn’t my friend, he sounds sympathetic, but he isn’t. He literally can’t be. 

Where Savage Island stands as a fantastic read and outstanding within the genre, incredibly Cruel Castle is even better. 

Both elevating and concentrating the thrills, maintaining the reader investment through continuation of a world yet at the same time offering something utterly fresh is a daunting task for any sequel but Bryony absolutely brings it here in Cruel Castle and it is absolutely sublime.

Please check out the other stops on the Cruel Castle tour 

Cruel Castle Bryony Pearce

Cruel Castle by Bryony Pearce is published by the Red Eye Imprint of Little Tiger Press

Thank you for my copy 💜

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