Halloween Read: The Tattooed Heart by Michael Grant

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Goodreads description: Mara has already witnessed more evil as the Messenger’s apprentice than most people do in their lifetime, but the games continue.

The Messenger leads Mara to the funeral of a Muslim boy named Aimal, who died standing up for his people, and then to an abandoned store, where they discover Graciella, a girl battling addiction. The all-knowing Messenger recognizes that they are victims of heinous crimes. Mara and Messenger will find the wicked—those who act out of selfishness and greed, and others who become violent because of prejudice and hate.

But Mara and Messenger pay a price too. For every person who is offered justice, they will wear a tattoo that symbolizes the heart of the crime. And as Mara delves deeper into her harsh reality, she is surprised to realize that part of her is drawn to the sometimes compassionate Messenger. In spite of all the terror she and Messenger inflict, Mara will discover that caring in this world is the hardest part of all.

This is book #2 in the Messenger of Fear series and I received copies of both books from Electric Monkey in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for the copies, guys!

I whizzed through Messenger of Fear in like a day and was equally gripped by this follow-up book. While Messenger of Fear was more of a set-up book, in which Mara first encounters the Messenger and figures out why she has been made his apprentice, in The Tattooed Heart I felt like the characters and story really came into their own. We see Mara grow as she learns more about what it means to be a Messenger, and the challenges she faces reveal more about what she is capable of. Two surprises for me were the feelings that Mara starts to develop towards Messenger and the equally non-expected way that the enigmatic Messenger’s history is revealed and how his story is progressed.

It’s creepy, but you can’t look away

I chose to the review this book as a ‘Halloween Read’ because, although it’s not your typical ‘horror’, there are elements to it that are undeniably creepy and gory. Mara and the Messenger are able to move through space and time at will and step into the lives of the subjects of their trials in order to learn more about them, watching events unfold unseen. That in itself I found pretty creepy, the idea of someone watching and judging you without you realizing. When taking a break from judging and trialing doers of evil, Mara  returns to her ‘abode’, a fully functioning apartment that has everything she needs – food, shower, a place to sleep, even books to read – but nothing to make it feel like home. It felt really sterile and impersonal and gave me a yucky unheimlich feeling. It makes for a very unsettling but still somehow compelling read!

Blood and gore all over the floor…

Then there are the games and punishments themselves: wrongdoers are presented with a choice of either a punishment or playing a game. If they win, they go free, and if they lose they are punished by facing their worse fear. In the games they must pit their wits against the Master of the Game, who takes a different form each time he appears. I’m not even going to try to describe him, let’s just say he is disturbing and all kinds of wrong and leave it at that. The games are always deeply unpleasant, on both a physical and psychological level, and result in some kind of sticky end for the losers.

… but not just for the sake of it

However, I wouldn’t say that the horror and violence in this book are gratuitous – shocking, yes, but all serving part of a greater motivation of forcing wrongdoers to confront their fears and acknowledge their wrongs and give them the chance to choose to be a better person at the end of it. As a reader you are placed in the position of judge and made to question your own set of values and the nature of evil. It was a truly fascinating look at the awful things that people are capable of and what motivates them. I was also gripped by the stories of the victims Graciella and Aimal. Viewing their stories from the outside it was all too easy to pinpoint the mistakes they made that led to their downfall, and, as Mara herself realizes, to find yourself blaming them just as much as the perpetrators as a result.

Welcome to unreality

There are two settings in this book – the uncanny not-quite-part-of-reality I spoke about earlier, and the ‘elsewhere’ world inhabited by the Messengers and the powerful god-like beings who rule and influence them. The landscape of this other world is abstract but vividly imagined and I felt transported away. Michael Grant’s descriptions are incredible and I am just a little bit in awe of him. Even though the setting is pretty out there and the roles of Mara and Messenger are very much outside normal life, he still managed to give them humanity and make them feel real.

Delinquent Librarian’s verdict: Not something I would have picked up based on the description, but really compelling. Worth a read if you are tired of cheap scares and want something that tackles the darker side of human nature.

One last thing…

Something I really liked about these books is that the page edges are dyed:

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I love the contrast of black and red. The series will make a really eye-catching collection.

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. I’m reading… Front Lines by Michael Grant | library4delinquents

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