Mara wakes in a field of dead grass, a heavy mist pressing down on her. She is terrified, afraid that she is dead. Then a beautiful young man dressed in black appears. He calls himself Messenger of Fear. This boy is able to move effortlessly through space and time. He also sees the darkness in human hearts. He sees the evils done: the destructive lies, the cruelty, the bullying, the violence. And if the world does not bring justice to those who do evil, he will. He offers the wicked a game. If they win, they go free. If they lose, they will live their greatest fear. Either way, their sanity will be challenged. It is a world of fair but harsh justice. Of retribution and redemption. And mystery. Why was Mara chosen to be the Messenger’s apprentice? What has she done to deserve this terrible fate? She won’t find out until three of the wicked receive justice. And when she does, she will be shattered.
As a paranormal mystery novel, Messenger of Fear has a lot going on – there is the case of Mara and what she did, the concept of the Heptarchy, the deal with the Messenger, and the whole world being magic realism. At first, I assumed it was like a urban fantasy sort of thing, but it blends with the world, and that’s where it gets sort of tricky. It does not explain how no one notices these things going on. It is sort of similar to Jigoku Shoujo (I find a lot of stories similar to that, I don’t know why), without the deal-making part and the two-graves thingy. Essentially, the Messenger of Fear is a force of retribution, of atonement, and his business is of torturing the guilty with the punishment of their worst fear. I’m assuming it is sort of an afterlife scenario for that particular bunch.
Mara is his new apprentice, and she does not remember how she came to be. At first, she finds him infuriating, his aura of mystery simultaneously torturing and drawing her in. She sees firsthand the rigors of the job she is meant to inherit, and first assumes him to be a monster for doing those things. It is a sick business, looking into the darkest pockets of evil in humans, and then deciding how to punish them. Through practical instruction, he shows her three cases of injustice, one not malicious in intent but still cruel enough, and other two rooted in cruelty. She learns that she has to be the judge and jury, no matter how the person is – she has to determine their guilt from the act, and this is where I was a bit apprehensive of the concept, because for all the redundant mentions of balance, there is no ‘let the punishment fit the crime’. Just atonement, or escaping the atonement doesn’t fix things, so how does it restore the balance. The canon lacks information on this part, which is unsurprising since the reveal came at the end of the book. In fact, the plot was so fast-paced that the first lull came only halfway into the book.
As for writing, I must say, it is very engaging prose, albeit in a very morbid way. The fact that I didn’t even notice it go by speaks for how this novel is the kind of book that hooks you in and keeps you in the world until it finishes. The events in the book, they are horrific but surreal. It was definitely an escapist’s delight, if you like your books dark.
Received a free galley from Katherine Teagen books via Edelweiss; this does not influence my opinions or review.