Book review #3: The Merciless by Danielle Vega

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“The Merciless” is a novel about what happens when one is desperate to fit in. So desperate that they find themselves in a situation so bizarre that the only way out is through a river of blood. Ok, that might sound a bit dramatic but there’s no other way to describe this story. It’s as if the cast of Mean Girls decided to dispose of the burn book and pick up an Exorcism 101 self-help book instead – and test the methodology on Janis.

the merciless by danielle vega

We follow our protagonist Sofia who has just moved to a new city. She immediately gets caught between the loner Brooklyn and a group of popular girls with Riley as their ringleader. Sofia, who is not used to being a part of a group or anybody liking her for that matter, eagerly grabs an opportunity to be involved.
However, what seemed as a coming-of-age story quickly transforms into a stuff of nightmares. Riley and her group kidnap Brooklyn because they believe the evil has found its way inside her – therefore she needs to be exorcised. The story spirals into madness from there. The unexpected violence was visceral and downright shocking because you wouldn’t expect this from a group of seemingly harmless teenage girls.
None of the characters were likeable at any given moment and this worked well for how the story was written – you aren’t supposed to like these girls. They’re all flawed, haunted by their mistakes and desperate for acceptance by their peers. In a way, this whole thing felt like a very messed-up therapy session in which nobody got what they came in for.
The following section contains spoilers for the story.

Evil creeping in

From page one, it feels like something is wrong. In general, something is very wrong. With the setting. With the characters. Now, this might be just my horror spidey senses going off but I had a feeling that this book is going to escalate.
On one hand, Sofia is torn between wanting the company of an outcast Brooklyn who is uniquely “herself” but slightly off-putting. On the other hand, she also wants to belong to Riley’s group of popular, put-together girls who seem to stick to each other like glue. Her secretly wanting best of both worlds is what inevitably gets her into this whole mess.
The early narrative never tries to convince us that Brooklyn isn’t possessed by some kind of demonic entity and Riley is so convinced of this that it’s hard not to believe her. So, when the actual kidnapping of Brooklyn happens, you can’t help but think: “uh-oh”.
Even though I didn’t like or relate to any of the girls, and whether I believed they were good or “evil”, I still didn’t want bad things to happen to them. So when bad things did start happening, it wasn’t so easy to read anymore. The plot escalated from stalking a girl who the group thought is worshiping the devil to her kidnapping and subsequent torture in the name of “exorcism”.
Danielle Vega’s writing style is simplistic but incredibly effective in this type of narrative. The plot moves fast and with it does the sense of dread.
The plot really begs the question of “what are you capable of when you think you can get away with it”. From an outsider’s perspective, as soon as this little “exorcism” game started shedding blood, it was obvious that there was no easy way out of the predicament. The only way to get away with hurting somebody to the extent that Brooklyn was hurt was through eternal silence.
Now, we’re talking about teenage girls here not some evil masterminds with a penchant for bloodshed and violence. So how did we end up here? My theory is that Brooklyn made sure she was caught in the arms of Riley’s (ex)boyfriend and that she wasn’t fighting too hard to stop her own kidnapping. If we take into consideration how Brooklyn was proven to be possessed in the penultimate chapters of the novel, this isn’t entirely impossible.
In a way, Sofia and Riley’s group unknowingly walked right into Brooklyn’s trap. Everybody has the potential for violence in them if they end up in the wrong circumstance or when their safety is threatened. Looking back on the early chapters and slight hints of danger that Sofia was picking up from both Riley and Brooklyn, it really shouldn’t have been that surprising that things ended the way they did.
Now that I think back, the evil deeds Brooklyn did were caused by her demonic possession so let’s say that’s her “excuse”. Riley wasn’t possessed. She was just a girl and yet she turned out just as evil and vengeful as Brooklyn was.
I found a lot of the story to be predictable and that is mostly due to the blurb that did a huge disservice to the story – it definitely gave away too much when it should’ve left some plot points ambiguous. That way, the reveal would’ve had a bigger impact. This took a bit of the enjoyment out of the book for me since this isn’t my first rodeo with horror book or exorcism themes.
The ending does lend itself to a sequel and I am curious enough to see how Sofia’s story ends.

Rating

characters: ★★☆☆☆
premise: ★★★☆☆
plot twist: ★★☆☆☆
spook factor: ★★☆☆☆
enjoyment factor: ★★★☆☆

Final word

If you’re looking for a quick read and aren’t scared of watching normal people do abnormal things, I would recommend “The Merciless”. However, it does contain descriptive violence so if you’re not in the mood for girls biting each other’s faces off (literally), you may want to reconsider picking this book up.

  • June 5, 2024