Say Her Name by James Dawson – Review

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The legend of Bloody Mary, the malevolent spirit that waits just beyond your own reflection has captured the imaginations of ghost story enthusiasts for years. The story holds that to summon Mary by calling her name in the mirror is to call for your own death and in the latest book by esteemed author James Dawson, we are treated to an original interpretation of the classic tale that left us both enraptured and at times genuinely terrified.

The story is set in a prestigious boarding school for young ladies in rural England. There a pack of young teenagers decide on a dare and make the fateful mistake of summoning the spirit of Bloody Mary. Of course they all presume it is nothing but a joke, and the wicked spectre would not come for them, much like she had not come for so many others. However, as a new day dawns ghostly messages appear, warning them they have only 5 days left. Soon these paranormal visits become all the more violent and intense forcing our heroine Bobbie, and her friends Caine and Naya to work together and unravel the sad and frightening tale of Bloody Mary.

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The challenge with reimagining a classic urban legend is to create something fresh and interesting while still holding on to the spirit of the original tale. Thankfully Dawson does this beautifully adding a great new spin on the original by working in as a new reimagined origin story. This makes the prose something akin to a mystery as Bobbie and her friends uncover more and more of the mystery at the heart of Mary and their school. This does work though as it provides an irascible desire to learn more and leaves any avid reader positively bursting to know what will happen next. This combined with a very strong pace helps to make the threat of the 5 day deadline seem all the more real and adding delicious tension as we near the brutal climax.

In terms of character we did find there were occasional issues with the main cast, especially near the beginning of the story, as the cast seemed largely copy and pasted from pre-tested ghost story models. Bobbie is the reluctant skeptic who turns true believer when Mary’s influence becomes stronger, Caine is the manly man (while still being a boy) trying to protect the women, Naya is the loudmouth lady who may as well have victim written on her forehead. While it might seem like lazy casting at first we had to concede that Dawson worked hard to breathe new life into them and make them refreshingly true to life. While we did occasionally flinch at his use of a teenagers voice which was watered down for a young adult audience. This resulted in occasionally odd dialogue such as one girl describing herself as ’50 shades of cray’ to emphasise she might be going mad. Clever, but at times stilted. That said it was the character of Mary herself who stole the show playing the role of monster and victim in a way that really left us uncertain whether to pity or fear her. Even now after reading the book we still aren’t quite sure ourselves.

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Reading Say her Name, we could not help but be reminded of classic horror movies, The Ring, and the more recent Drag Me to Hell. In both the central character earned the ire of an angry spirit and were left with a ticking clock, counting down the days until the spirit came for them. This was familiar as a result but thanks to Dawson’s prose we were still left tense and anxious as the deadline came to an end, essentially combining the best of both works in a book form. While at times we wondered if this was a bit of a rip off, of The Ring especially, we found ourselves seeing a new side to the story which made it stand apart and keep us coming back for more.

Dawson’s story is a frightening tour-de-force which captures your attention and leaves you stop until you have seen Mary in all her bloody glory. The mystery was on point and the combination of familiar elements with a new twist was done so well we were left with our jaws dropped by the authors audacity. While there was the odd ropey moment here or there we were left fulfilled and still a little scared to look ourselves in the mirror for fear of seeing Dawson’s blue eyed spectre looking back at us. A must read for your collection.

Say Her Name is available from Amazon and the iBookstore. Don’t forget to read our interview with author James Dawson regarding his latest book.