My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved Em Bailey’s Gold Inky winning Shift and I have passed it on to many students as a creepy thriller recommendation. When I started reading The Special Ones I wasn’t sure it was going to live up to Shift. I had very high expectations.
This novel is a slow-burn. The first half is basically mood setting, drawing you in to the characters’ lives and investing you in their welfare. Then BAM! things take off and it doesn’t slow down. Bailey uses different characters’ voices to great effect in the second half of the book and I found the last 80 pages or so absolutely compelling. One of the things I found refreshing about this book was the lack of swearing, sex, or romantic angst. It was just a tautly written thriller with some relationship undercurrents.
The book begins inside a cult. We meet Esther, Felicity, and Harry. Harry has been out into the world searching for a new “Special One”, a Lucille. A Lucille, because the Felicitys and Lucilles here change sometimes. The old one is sent away to be “renewed” and another is chosen, “collected” and made to remember their past as one of the Special Ones. Harry goes back and kidnaps the new Lucille and then her “remembering” begins. This is the world Esther lives in, and she is our narrator. To the reader, it is clear that this is a cult run by a faceless leader who issues instructions to his followers, who live in a farmhouse, by computer. The Special Ones communicate with followers in the outside world via an internet chat room, and they manufacture clothes and objects to sell online to their followers.
The novel traces Lucille’s indoctrination and “verification” as she accepts that she is Lucille, and not Sasha. She becomes a fully-fledged Special One and that’s when things start to get creepy. Little by little things start to change within the house, and then Harry is sent away for renewal – something that has never happened before. Before long, Esther is sent for renewal too – she leaves the cult. I can’t tell you any more because of my no spoiler policy, but I can say that there will be tears of sadness and tears of triumph before you finish reading.
This story starts off slowly, with attention to detail. You get lulled into the rhythm of the Special Ones’ life and that’s what Bailey wants – because then she delivers shock after shock. I gasped out loud once or twice reading this one – maybe you will too.
For ages 13 and up.