Four Paths isn’t like other places. When Violet Saunders moves to the small, rural town with her mother, she quickly discovers that there’s more to the place than meets the eye; founder families with their otherworldly gifts, the mingled fear and awe of the townspeople, and a deadly beast haunting the woods. Whether she likes it or not, Violet’s family name makes her a part of the story. But who can she trust, and what is her role in the multilayered mystery of Four Paths?
The Devouring Gray, by Christine Lynn Herman, throws you headlong into the magic of Four Paths with Justin having his future told. It takes a similar approach to all of the powers and mystery, describing the magic up-front as if the reader is already familiar with it and then back-tracking to fill in the gaps as required, and I think this works really well. I think it’s particularly effective when Violet is introduced, and when reading from her point of view. The only teenager in the story who hasn’t grown up in Four Paths, she spends a lot of time trying to piece together the information she’s gathering about this strange and dangerous place, and the reader is along for the ride with her.
As well as having a neatly delivered magic system, The Devouring Gray is enormously atmospheric. Although we don’t encounter the Gray itself until a few chapters in, its mark is all over the town. Fear and dread lie heavy over the people of Four Paths, and we see the toll it’s taken play out in different ways through the five teenage founders we follow throughout the story; Justin’s gnawing anxiety that his inability to protect people will be discovered, the hardness May displays to deal with the responsibility she feels, Isaac’s wild and violent rejection of the tonwspeople’s trust and his own role as a protector of the town, and Violet’s constant scrambling to keep up as new layers of deceit are peeled away.
The writing is frequently beautiful, and certainly impactful, and although there were moments where I found it over the top in a way that detracted from the reading experience they weren’t common enough to really start getting on my nerves. If I had one complaint about the writing in this book, it would be regarding the amount of describing the past that goes on in order to explain or provide context for the present-day action of the story. I can completely see why Herman has chosen to structure the story in the way she has, and I think there are moments in the story where the past and the present play out side-by-side in a way that adds to the tension and excitement. I just felt that those moments were overshadowed by the times where it felt more like an info-dump, and made for a dissatisfying conclusion to the sense of mystery that had been built up around the history of the town and its families.
Leaving aside the specifics of how it was delivered, I did find the background of Four Paths and its founding families really interesting, and I think the way the mistakes of the past played into the struggles the protagonists faced in the present was well explored.
I thought the main characters were interesting and three dimensional, and even though the supporting characters were necessarily less explored I thought the broad conflicts explored made a lot of sense and lent credibility even when the characters themselves didn’t seem to have that much depth. And, I have to go back to it again, the atmosphere in this story was phenomenal. Herman paints a picture of a town with secrets seething right beneath the surface, and danger lurking around every corner. It stays with you whenever you stop reading, and even after turning the final page.
The Devouring Gray uses its supernatural setting to explore responsibility, loss, trust and loyalty – all within a unique and exciting storyline. I’d recommend this highly to anybody who enjoys the blending of contemporary YA and fantasy; those who enjoyed the House of Night series or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina I think would particularly enjoy this book.
If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know what you think!