Dark, cryptic, and carrying a very heavy message, Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant is a story that sticks with the reader long after the last page has been read. Though I’m not a fan of writers that use their stories as a platform to teach the lowly readers, this story had a completely different feel to it. The lesson was one of observance, patience, and ultimately, human nature. I realized fairly early on what was happening with the main character, Mara, but the compelling journey kept me reading until the very end.
Mara Todd wakes in a field of dead grass, a heavy mist pressing down on her. She is terrified, afraid that she is dead. She can’t remember who she is or anything about her past. Is it because of the boy that appears? He calls himself the Messenger of Fear. If the world does not bring justice to those who do evil, the Messenger 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.
Mara wakes up with no memories and no past. The story begins with her as a clean slate. It felt natural to be compassionate and sympathetic to Mara, as the story was told from her perspective. The reader knows that there is much to her life that is left out. I don’t think the reveal at the end is surprising to anyone, least of all Mara. Her journey is real and poignant, a cause for readers to evaluate their own thoughts and actions. Leading her through the maze of confusing circumstance, the Messenger of Fear (or just “Messenger”) is a sad, stoic presence. There isn’t much personal information revealed about Messenger or his “boss” Daniel, but I found myself drawn to both and curious to know more.
The story is somewhat convoluted and travels through time and space. Mara is learning about Messenger, and in the process, learning about herself and her past. I’m not sure what mythology was used, though it had a slightly Egyptian feel to it. The full explanation of Messengers and their purpose doesn’t occur until the end of the story, so I’ll leave it at that. Mara’s emotional and psychological journey drove the plot forward. While there wasn’t a lull, I found myself taking breaks in reading due to the dark and heavy themes. The bullying, suicide, and violent scenes took a lot out of me. They are integral to the story and handled with care and dignity, but damn I needed a moment.
Bullying and human nature are major themes of Messenger of Fear. Messenger told Mara that the small joys helped to deal with the pain associated with their task of restoring balance. The only “joy” that I noted was one scene at the end. I could have used one or two more joyful scenes. Most of this story is a very dark read that left me feeling incredibly disconcerted – as I think was the intent. Messenger of Fear would be a great story to illustrate the serious consequences of bullying, perhaps at middle school level. Everyone is facing a personal battle, sometimes very privately. However, each person is still responsible for his or her own actions. Balance, justice, and personal responsibility are stressed during Messenger’s justice sessions. If you enjoy dark, gritty stories about real-life struggles with a unique twist (and suicide and bullying are not triggers), then Messenger of Fear is definitely worth a read.