The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynne Herman

I would like to thank Lydia at Titan for advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Titan

Published – Out Now

Price - £8.99

On the edge of town, a beast haunts the woods, trapped in the Gray, its bonds loosening.

Uprooted from the city, Violet Saunders doesn’t have much hope of fitting in at her new school in Four Paths, a town almost buried in the woodlands of rural New York. The fact that she’s descended from one if the own’s founders doesn’t help much, either – her new neighbours treat her with distant respect, and something very like fear. When she meets Justin, May, Isaac, and Harper, all children if founder families, and sees the otherworldly destruction they can wreak, she starts to wonder if the townsfolk are right to be afraid.

When bodies start to appear in the woods, the locals become downright hostile. Can the teenagers solve the mystery of Four Paths, and their own part in it, before another calamity strikes?

Two haunting parts of growing up – dealing with the unofficial hierarchy of your school – who is cool, banished, to be pitied, scorned etc and the joy of working out the actual place you live in. What the life stories of your neighbours are and who supports and hates your family. Its part of working out who you are and where you fit.  Now add in magical powers, deaths and demonic entities and you’ll begin to appreciate the struggles that Christine Lynne Herman puts her characters through; in what I suspect is going to be a very popular supernatural thriller series.

Our introduction to this world is through Violet who has recently lost her elder sister in a tragic car accident. With her mother Juniper, are now the only surviving members of this branch of the family so after many years she is taken to the old Family home in Four Paths to stay with Juniper’s sister Daria.  She finds she is part of the original town founder’s bloodlines. In this very small-town Violet is quickly meeting the other Founder families. Justin and May Hawthorne are the children of the local sheriff and viewed as the most powerful in the town. Justin’s best friend is Isaac Sullivan whose founder family abandoned him a few years ago and he balances his devotion to Justin with a very destructive rage. Finally, she meets Harper Carlisle once one of Justin’s best friends now firmly viewed in school as a pariah after losing her arm. What Violet finds out is that this not just some strange historical town custom but dates back to when the town was being formed and the four families united to stop a powerful evil entity from taking over the town.  The Beast as it is known was banished to a haunting shadow world known as the Gray while the families in the process got special powers such as control of the mind or energy. The families regularly patrol against the Beast’s incursions but over the last year the number of people being snatched and brutally murdered in the Gray are rising. Violet may be the only hope, but she also be its destruction.

I was extremely impressed with how Herman has set up the world in this. The anchor for the reader is the founder children and its their emotional battles I think are what makes the book.  Violet is struggling with grief feeling incredibly lost and isolated. Justin is battling a sense of family duty and disappointment versus a desire to find a life outside the two. Justin is hiding a lot of internal trauma but is dangerously on the road to self-destruction and Harper now feels like she has been cast out by friends and to some extent her own family. Violet adds a unifying dimension for this group who no longer all get along – not all of whom want to be her friend out of kindness, but they work well together and realise they can aid one another in a town where very few know the burdens each are under. There is a lot of contrasting between the teenagers keen to sort things out with their parents staying rigid to tradition who all have their own view on how their offspring should behave. Teenage rebellion and finding out who you are isn’t new, but Herman really knows how to make you care and for most readers that battle against the existing social order of a place will not be unfamiliar.

The other key driver is the magical dimension to Four Paths. Herman has created a small town full of mysteries both magical and personal. The Beast, ancient family legacies plus as we see a group who now feel the four families are a danger rather than an advantage to the town’s progression. This means lots of people are hiding secrets and the revelations can sometimes be startling and dangerous. Violet has several distressing scenes where she finds herself in the Gray and battling encounters with the Beast and that emotional horror works very well. Its not graphic but can be deeply unsettling as each character faces up to their own more personal demons.

I was really engrossed by this world and if you enjoy a good small-town spooky mystery then this is perfect. It reminds me a lot of early Buffy or a show like Riverdale where you have lots of interesting characters come into orbit around one another and family legacies start to rise again. This feels very strongly the first season (and yes it really would be a great TV show too) so I’m fascinated if now that the world’s foundations are built if the novel can start to explore and play the with the bigger mysteries it has set up. An extremely impressive start to a new supernatural mystery series.