by Bryony Pearce
Published by Stripes Publishing (Red Eye)
Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon
Five friends decide to enter Iron Teen, a competition for 16-20 year olds run by Silicon Valley tech billionaire, Marcus Gold, in which they must use their puzzle-solving and survival skills to complete 7 checkpoints and retrieve 7 geocaches on a private island over the course of 3 days. Each checkpoint requires a puzzle to be solved before the coordinates of the next checkpoint, puzzle and geocache is revealed. The contents of each geocache must be replaced with an item to the equal or greater value for the checkpoint to be complete. With ten teams in contention for the prize, the team with the fastest time and complete set of geocache items will be declared the winners and win £1 million each.
For friends Lizzie, Grady, Carmen and brothers Ben and Will, this sounds too good to be true. With their Duke of Edinburgh award completed, they have the survival skills for orienteering, rock climbing and various other outdoor skills needed to survive three days on a deserted, private island. A million pounds could do a lot: it could send Ben to college for mechanical engineering, send Carmen to veterinary school, pay off Lizzie’s parent’s mortgage, help Will start up his app business and fund Grady’s conspiracy theory magazine. When the five friends are chosen as one of the ten teams to grace the Gold Foundation’s private island, Aikenhead, they eagerly set off for the contest of their lives.
After opening the pages of Bryony Pearce’s young adult horror novel SAVAGE ISLAND, I knew that this million pound prize contest would be more than what it initially seemed. Pitting teams against one another in order to win such a life-changing amount could only spell trouble of the Lord of the Flies and Hunger Games variety and I wasn’t wrong. Reading about this group of close friends and their perilous adventures in the Shetland Isles only made me grab the comfort of my duvet and steaming hot mug of Oxo even more as their brush with danger starts as soon as they land at their destination.
Being stuck on an island is not a fantasy of mine. All the stuff that could go wrong is enough to make the LOST scenario a nightmare and reading about these teenagers fighting against currents and quick sand just makes me shudder. From the comfort of my sofa though, I was happy to get stuck into Pearce’s fictional Iron Teen adventure, one that seemed a lot more taxing than that of an Iron Man triathlon especially as the book goes on. A group of interesting, intelligent characters, each with their own set of skills, made a refreshing change as often friends or groups of characters have one smarty pants surrounded by a set of dumbasses. In Pearce’s book, however, all five have their particular strengths, whether it’s being good at puzzles, maths, riddles, games or even a physical activity such as rock climbing. If I was going to enter myself, I probably wouldn’t have found a better team than the one described in the book as they tackle every problem that they encounter in the best way that they can.
Being familiar with horror, it was easy to see how the story would unfold but, nevertheless, I found it nail-biting to be confronted with these intense instances and choices that the teens face during the competition. Despite knowing the path in which the book would tread, SAVAGE ISLAND did offer up a few surprises with Pearce’s descriptions offering a visceral, vivid picture at the forefront of my mind. These heart-in-mouth experiences had me glued to the pages as though I was to miss out on any action should I tear my eyes away from it. Even the dialogue between the characters was uncomfortably real, as though I was a fly on the wall at that very moment, eavesdropping into unsavoury scenarios.
Definitely a book aimed at teenagers upwards, SAVAGE ISLAND feels fresh and energetic, not only from the style of writing but also from the presentation. The choice to include the checkpoint puzzles and “scans” of the letters and forms that the characters are sent for Iron Teen really involved me as a reader and made me feel like I was sat there with them, reading the rules and attempting to solve the puzzles. Even though the book is told from Ben’s perspective, the remaining characters in the group all share the main character status, such is the tightness of the story, dialogue and even friendship. With Pearce’s writing making me feel like the sixth member of the group, I found it incredibly discomforting to be faced with the scenarios that the teens find themselves in – certainly not something I’d like to experience in reality!
A gripping, nightmarish tale of survival, SAVAGE ISLAND is an engaging white-knuckle thriller that will make you think twice about entering any sort of deserted island contests.