Monday 18 October 2021

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Review: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

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Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Published: 3rd October 2019 | Publisher: Walker Books | Source: Bought
Kate Alice Marshall’s Website

Once a year, a road appears in the woods at midnight and the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons, inviting those who are brave enough to play her game. If you win, you escape with you life. But if you lose...

It's almost a year since Becca went missing. Everyone else has given up searching for her, but her sister, Sara, knows she disappeared while looking for Lucy Gallows. Determined to find her, Sara and her closest friends enter the woods. But something more sinister than ghosts lurks on the road, and not everyone will survive.
From the blurb.

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I stumbled across Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall when doing research for a blog post on sapphic YA horror. It sounded intriguing, so I ordered myself a copy. And I am struggling to figure out why it took an online search for me to find this book. Because it's absolutely unbelievable!

A year ago, Becca went missing. Most believe she ran away with her boyfriend, but her sister Sara knows she went to find Lucy Gallows, a ghost believed to haunt a road in Briar Glen woods, a road that only appears once a year. It's an urban legend, a myth no-one really believes. A tale of the disappearance of a girl some fifty years ago that got twisted. But when a text is sent to all students at Sara's school just days before the anniversary of the day Becca vanished, challenging students to play Lucy's game when the road appears, Sara knows this is her chance to find her sister. And so, with her former best friends, she steps onto the road, not to find Lucy Gallows, but to find Becca.

Rules for Vanishing is such a difficult book to talk about, because it's so much more than a ghost haunting a road that appears in the woods once a year. That on it's own sounds eerie and creepy, right? That is nothing compared to what you actually get in this book. I have been reading various YA horror stories for a few weeks now, seeking the fear and the buzz I got from Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, and not finding it. Not until now.

Rules is an epistolary novel. The reader knows from the beginning that everything they read are files of a case investigated by a Dr. Andrew Ashford, a professor interested in the paranormal. They have been taken from Dr. Ashford, copied, and passed on to someone unknown - by someone unknown. Mostly, anyway. There are certain things that can't be taken without Dr. Ashford being aware of, like video files, for example. What we are reading are interview transcripts, transcripts of video footage, text messages, news paper articles, snippets from online forums, and Sara's own written statement, which makes up the bulk of the story. It's an extremely quick read. Because of the format, you know that the events of the story took place the month previous to Dr. Ashford's interviews with Sara. So you know, whatever happened, Sara got out. But the story is so deftly crafted, you never have any clue what's going to happen in Sara's story until you get to that point in her statement.

I expected there to be a few chapters at the beginning setting up the story; telling us about the urban legend, about Becca's disappearance, about how her disappearance effected her family. We get all those things, but not necessarily before the group enters the woods. Most of it is revealed on the road. There is very little in the way of build up, and we're almost immediately thrown into the woods, onto the road. There's no hanging around with this book, it throws you right into the story from the get go. And from the moment they step onto the road that appears in front of their eyes, there is a constant sense of dread. The group of friends cannot trust anything on the road, and that fear leaches into you. This book is genuinely terrifying.

And Rules is completely unpredictable. You can't predict anything when everything is unknown. Marshall takes you by the hand and lead you down the road, along with the characters, knowing with every step - with every word, every page - you're being lead to something even more frightening than what came before. And it was bloody glorious! But at the same time, it's so clever. There is a story here. There's so much more going on. So much bigger and incomprehensible than you can imagine. Honestly, this book is a bloody masterpiece.

What adds to the dread and the fear is noticing things that the characters don't seem to. I can't go into it without spoilers, obviously, but there were a number of times when I realised something - something that didn't fit, that wasn't right, that wasn't normal - and terror at what that means. You might think the format would distance you from the actual events, but it doesn't do that at all. If anything, I forgot I was reading a story. I felt I was right there with them. Seeing things that aren't possible. The consequences of not following the rules of the road. The horror of the realities of what they're facing. And the absolute certainty that not everyone is going to get out of this alive.

It has one of those open endings that could be extremely frustrating, but there is a companion novel! While raving about Rules on Twitter, someone told me that Our Last Echoes is a companion novel to this one, and I ordered it before finishing. I had it to start as soon as I finished Rules, and can confirm that, while the story is completely different and follows a different case, there are answers.

Honestly, Rules is an absolutely amazing story. It was so gripping. Terrifying and incredibly exciting. So good, I couldn't wait to start Our Last Echoes, which is just as brilliant! Honestly, Marshall has made their way onto my auto-buy list, and I am so, so looking forward to reading everything else they have written. Do not sleep on this book!

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