They say it makes your eyes bleed.
I think there’s been a mistake.

Toby wasn’t worried about the blood test, it’s just routine. Then one day a van turns up at his home, a van that takes him away to the Death House. Isolated from his past life, he lives with other Defective children, living out their last days until the symptoms start. There is no going back once they’ve taken you to the sanatorium.

Sarah does an amazing job of capturing the male teenage voice. The fact that Toby isn’t a particularly likable character to me, proves this point. I can sympathise with his situation though, and slowly his better qualities comes through. He’s a good big brother to the younger boys in his dorm, even if somewhat grudgingly.

Little of their classes in included in the story, for the main they are inconsequential for them; they’re not going to use their lessons learned after all. However one key thing they are reading in class, which can hardly be coincidental, is Lord of the Flies. In the house, the kids are mostly left to themselves and they form their own social hierarchy. Those who show weakness (first signs of illness) are shunned by the group.

There was one thing which distracted me a little. The way the defectiveness is introduced made me think it wasn’t logical. A genetic defect that’s only becomes detectable after time, not at birth and the need to isolate them from society just didn’t make sense to me. What would make their families just give them up like that? However, enough is suggested near the end that explains it enough for me. I just wish my brain hadn’t got attached to that particular niggle.

It’s not really about the outside world at all. There are little hints, like the change in climate, and the flashbacks to how Toby came to be in the Death House. We know there are other houses like it around the country. But the children have been separated from the greater world, and this story is about them. It’s insular and intimate, but with a sense of dread pervading. Is there hope? Or are they right to just accept their fate?

I liked that is wasn’t about the children fighting the system or being unlikely saviours for mankind, as we so often see. I do think it’s one you’re going to want to discuss afterwards, there is so much not told, but enough to make assumptions. Have we all made the same ones?

The Death House is published by Gollancz and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 26th February 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. Sarah will be launching the book at Blackwell’s on the 13th February.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights | Reader Dad

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.