My readers have spoken and I have listened. When I posted my Halloween to-read list last week, I had several recommendations but The Three won in the end because creepy kids are hard to top. And since this novel is set on several continents, I thought it would be quite refreshing as well as terrifying. So despite really, really wanting to read another Shirley Jackson, I dove straight into The Three and must send a big Thank You to the commenters who recommended it.
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014
Ebook: 480 pages
Series: The Three #1
My rating: 8/10
First sentence: Come on, come on, come on…
They’re here … The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many … They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to–
The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961 – 2012)
Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.
There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged.
And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone.
A message that will change the world.
The message is a warning.
Four planes crash almost at the exact same time in four different places in the world, killing numerous people. The world suspects terrorism – after all, how can this be a coincidence? But what is even stranger is that three of these four crashes were survived by one child each. Hiro in Japan, Bobby in the USA, and Jess from the UK – all are approximately the same age, all are almost unscathed (compared to what happened to the people who didn’t survive, at least). Now, that is a fantastic set-up for a horror novel, in part because it can go in so many different directions. The plane crashes could be supernatural, the children could be possessed, or aliens, or harbingers of the end of the world. Or it could all just be one evil, horrible coincidence.
Sarah Lotz chose to tell this story as a sort of oral history. The Three is told as a fictional non-fiction book, set after the events of Black Thursday, collecting newspaper articles, transcribed interviews, witness acounts, blog posts, chat histories, and more. This format lends itself really well to the story and the short chapters make it even harder to put the book down. Those 500 pages just fly by, as you watch the world turn insane.
So… creepy kids. They really are creepy, mostly because they completely fail to deliver what horror movies have taught us to expect from creepy kids. They don’t suddenly stand behind you with a big knife, they don’t speak dead languages or with a demon’s voice – in fact, they behave almost normally most of the time. Considering the trauma that they have lived through, one could say they are handling it pretty well. What makes them so utterly scary is that there are moments where their personality shifts ever so slightly, moments when they say just one line that is a tiny bit off, when they don’t feel like children. It’s perfect if you like shivers down your spine.
But far more terrifying than three little children could ever be is the collective reaction of humanity to the events of Black Thursday. I was most shocked by the religious nuts, people claiming to want to save others, yet clearly out for their own gain, and following their delusions to scary lengths. Compared to them, the people who say aliens did it seem almost acceptable (mostly because not so many end up following them).
At first, the conspiracy blogs, the crazy preachers, the Three’s worried relations don’t have much influence in the wider world, but that changes quickly. As a pastor convinces a famous, celebrity priest that the Three are omens for the end of the world, they become convinced that there must be a fourth child, another survivor from the crash in South Africa. And, like mindless minions, people flock to South Africa and go looking for a child that may very well not exist. That is the stuff nightmares are made of.
My favorite story line is hard to pick, but I do have a soft spot for the Japanese survivor, Hiro, and his remaining family. Not only are there robots involved (which, come one, robots are just cool), but this was the story with the most humanity to it. It features troubled young people, living their lives surrounded by the insanity of suddenly having a celebrity in their midst. And their lives were hard enough to begin with, even without papparazzi and conspiracies and being afraid of assassins.
The scariest child, to me, was Jess. But this impression was probably colored by her uncle who acts as narrator through his recorded messages. Which leads me again to the way the story is told. The medium – or media, rather – turn this into a surprisingly quick read, more a thriller than a non-fiction book, but there’s still room for all the different voices to come through. After a few chapters, every character becomes recognisable through their voice alone, without even needing names or places mentioned as anchors. It’s always clear who’s telling the story at any given moment and that makes it much easier to empathise with people – or despise them, in certain cases…
The Three is a horror thriller that turns the creepy children trope on its head and, without answering many questions, delivers the best ending I could have hoped for! I highly doubt I can wait until Halloween next year to read the sequel, Day Four. I also doubt I’ll ever be flying again without remembering that opening chapter, the most terrifying part of the entire book. Shirley Jackson and Sarah Lotz – you have seriously sweetened my Halloween this year. You know, in a spine-tingly way.
MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent