You Are Invited by Sarah A. Denzil
Published independently, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Contemporary horror stories are often criticised for failing to reflect modern technology and conveniences (characters being without their phones, acting as though the internet doesn’t exist, and so on). Many authors clearly struggle to reconcile a sense of isolation and fear with the constant connectivity of modern tech, but with You Are Invited, Sarah A. Denzil uses a bold and original setup to prove the two can work in excellent harmony to actually ramp up the tension.
When the story opens, we find Cath on the final leg of a long journey to Transylvania. From thousands of applicants, she is one of a handful of influencers chosen to participate in The Event, a unique project that will see popular internet personalities cohabit in a newly renovated monastery. Millions of subscribers from across the globe will pay to livestream their every move, and to request they take on various tasks specifically for their entertainment. But the monastery itself is haunted by stories of a brutal past. When strange events begin to unfold and viewers flood the stream with warnings of an ominous figure lurking in the shadows, tempers begin to fray.
Despite the distinctly modern slant, I was pleased to see the book fully lean in to gothic traditions that instantly dial up the atmosphere. We have a setting that could have been lifted right out of Dracula, locals whispering of horrific murders, strange figures looming just out of sight, the howl of wolves from the surrounding forest, and a cast of characters clearly keeping secrets from each other. I loved all of these elements, and thought they made for a gripping, pacy read that felt paradoxically familiar and fresh.
The main character suffers from schizophrenia, heavily implied to stem from childhood trauma. This is used to good effect to heighten the air of uncertainty and paranoia, but for the most part, I felt the author avoided obvious and potentially harmful mental health tropes. That said, the speed and flippancy with which she is said to be able to stop taking previously vital medication at one point did grind my gears. I fully respect that everyone’s treatment and recovery journey is different, but the implication that meds are a quick fix until you address the ‘real’ problem isn’t exactly a favourite trope of mine.
After laying all the groundwork with excellent tension building and narrative intrigue, the climax seemed to abruptly drop a lot of potential on these fronts in favour of something a little too melodramatic for my taste. I can’t deny how much fun I had throughout my time with this novel, though. It ticks almost all the boxes you’d want from a classic, ghostly tale, while also offering interesting commentary on the distinctly modern issue of the potentially toxic relationship between creators and their audience; the pressure and manipulation that can affect both sides.
Thank you to the author and Netgalley for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.