Book Review: The Merciless III by Danielle Vega

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AAAAAAAH. It’s HERE. IT’S FINALLY HEEEEERE. **DEMON VOICE** IT’S HEEEERE.

AKA…my actual reaction when my copy of this book arrived in the mail.

I then proceeded to stay up all night so that I could read it in one sitting.

Do I regret it?

NO.

So, if you’re not familiar, The Merciless III is the third (obviously) book in The Merciless series penned by Danielle Vega. All three books are YA horror novels and you can read my thoughts about the first two books ((here)). In the third book in the series, subtitled Origins of Evil, we go way back and find out how Brooklyn from The Merciless and The Merciless II became evil/possessed/got involved in all this craziness to begin with.

And it’s a hell of a story. It starts out with Brooklyn starting a teen helpline for kids in her town—with the best of intentions—and receiving a mysterious call from a young woman, sounding like she’s in pain, and saying only, “He’s hurting me.”

And because Brooklyn is who she is and can’t leave well enough alone, she of course goes looking for the girl, trying to figure out if she’s in trouble and how she can help, and, in true Merciless fashion, things escalate so, so quickly.

Please be aware, the following review will probably include some spoilers, because I have a lot of thoughts about this book and it will be tough for me to share them all without spoiling some things here and there. So, if you haven’t read it, you have been warned, and also WHAT are you doing? Go read it! Read the whole series! Then come back here and we can talk about it!

So, much like the first two books in the Merciless series, The Merciless III is full of tons of twists and turns and curveballs. The entire vibe felt very true to the rest of the Merciless series because once again, it was never really clear to the readers or the protagonists who could be trusted, who was good/bad/evil, who was truly a victim and who was a bad guy, and whether or not people were crazy or there was actually some really seriously creepy stuff going down.

And speaking of creepy, a lot of the characters in this book were creepy as all hell! Pastor Joe, I’m looking at you. But Gavin also gave me creeper vibes from the get go, as did a lot of the members of Christ First, the church that Brooklyn ends up getting involved with. But even Brooklyn herself gets creepier and creepier as the book goes on, until she reaches the creepy/evil-infested level she’s at in the original Merciless book. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if there’s one thing Vega knows, it’s creepy.

Creeeeepyyyy

Aside from the general creepiness (which I loved), there were a lot of other things I loved about this book, as well. The first one I already touched on, and was also one of my favorite things about the first Merciless book, which is the sense of ambiguity about the general “goodness” of most of the characters. With only a few exceptions, most of the characters in this book are pretty bad in their own way. Some are different levels of bad or evil, but a lot of them are bad. But one of the things that Vega does so well in all three books is constantly keep you guessing about the characters and their intentions. Characters who you think are good turn out to be bad and characters who you think are bad turn out to be…well, even worse, if we’re being honest here. And I love that. I love that there’s more going on beneath the surface with so many of the characters, so much more than you’d expect, and I like that there aren’t a lot of “good guys”, because in real life, sometimes there really isn’t a clear cut good guy. Sometimes there’s just a lot of bad people…or regular people doing bad things.

Another thing I really loved about this book—maybe my favorite thing of all—was Brooklyn’s general descent into “bad” or evilness. I really liked the idea that as the story went on, it was her own actions that led her down the path of destruction. Was she replaced in some crazy circumstances? Yes, absolutely. But it was very clear that what progressively strengthened the evil within her was none other than the choices she made. I loved the concept that with each “bad” thing she did, she grew more and more inclined to do bad things, and the evil within her grew and grew until she reached the point where the demon was able to take over, because she had more or less given herself over to it. It started out so small, but Vega did an excellent job of portraying the progression of the evil within Brooklyn as the story went on. You could really feel it taking over her, and I almost wanted to reach into the book and shake her and yell, “No, Brooklyn, no! Stop now! I’ve read the other books! I know what you become!”

Coupled with Brooklyn’s descent into evil, I also loved her growing paranoia as she progresses there and the realistic portrayal of her hallucinations and the other images haunting her. All the scenes with blood filling up the bathtub or the burnt and misshapen figure of Pastor Joe following her around were so well done and detailed that I could really feel Brooklyn’s anxiety and paranoia growing more and more out of control.

And speaking of detailed, I just want to quickly mention that the hands down most horrifying scene in this book is the scene with Laura and the fro-yo spoon. That scene was set up so perfectly, from the details about the flavors to Brooklyn’s reaction to the fro-yo shop. “The flavors here all have cutesy names. Teen Dream. High School Crush. Bubblegum Kiss,” she says. “The seats and tables and walls are neon pink with white trim, and Taylor Swift plays on an endless loop. Basically, this place is hell.”

But things get a whole lot more hellish when the whole spoon thing happens, and then proceed to even more hellishness when they’re in the hospital. (For those of you who are reading this like “what the hell are you talking about?”, spoiler alert: Laura slips and her spoon goes into her freaking EYE SOCKET.)

This scene was so awful to read but so good because it was so well written, and the details—especially the details of the sounds—really brought it to life as if I was watching (and hearing) it happen right in front of me. I wanted to keep reading, but I also wanted to throw up.

Like in a good way, though. I definitely mean the puking as a compliment.

The descriptions of Laura’s eye and eye socket once they’re at the hospital were just the cherry on top of the puke sundae for this one. Vega doesn’t load her books with unnecessary gore, but she definitely knows how to use some well-placed gore here and there for maximum effect.

So by now you might be wondering, was there anything you didn’t like about The Merciless III?

And my answer to that would be, meh. I guess sort of?

Because here’s the thing. There are only two things I sort of disliked, but I didn’t totally dislike them. Allow me to expand.

The first thing was that I kind of went into this one thinking I would get all my questions answered. That was an error on my part. I should know better. I got a lot of questions answered. I definitely got an answer to my main question, which was how the hell did Brooklyn end up like this? Was she born like this? Has she always been a demon?

Okay that was way more than one question, but they all go hand in hand…in hand…in one big question about Brooklyn. I definitely got the answers I was looking for there.

But the other thing that happened was, I ended up with even more questions or still had lingering questions from some of the other books. For example, what was the deal with Hope? Or rather, the demon possessing Hope. I definitely get where she met the demon and everything, but I guess I still want more backstory on the demon before it got to Hope, i.e., I’m just greedy for backstory and want to keep tracing this thing back to the medieval times. But the reason that’s only sort of a dislike is because I realize it would be unreasonable to just keep going and going, and there’s only so much room within one book. I think Vega kept this to a reasonable and concise length, which I appreciate despite my greediness for demonic genealogy.

I don’t know, y’all. I really don’t.

There was another question left unanswered though, and that is what is the deal with Riley? How did Riley get so crazy and decide to go full on Exorcist on Brooklyn? I think we get some hints as to Riley’s intentions and personality in this book, but I’d really love to know where she got the idea to eventually tie Brooklyn up in a basement and start slicing her open in order to get the evil out of here. Was it Pastor Joe’s influence? Did she just watch too many scary movies? I simultaneously love the ambiguity and also want all the answers.

The other thing I (only sort of) disliked about this book was that were a couple of all-too-typical cheesy horror movie type moments, but it’s not entirely fair for me to list this as a dislike. As I was reading, it was like I had a miniature devil and angel version of myself sitting on my shoulders and one of them was saying, “Eh, that was like something straight out of a cheesy horror movie” *rolls eyes*, and then the other one said, “But hang on a second…you love cheesy horror movies!” (Which one of these is the devil and which is the angel? I have no idea. I’ll let you decide.)

And that’s the thing…I do love cheesy horror movies. So I was at a bit of an internal war with myself because some of the moments made me say, “ugh, come on,” but since I really like cheesy horror movies, I am willing to let them slide. Two examples of this are toward the end of the book, when we start getting to the big finale fight scene. At one point, Brooklyn is running through the woods and trips and hurts her ankle, making it difficult for her to run away, and I was kind of like, oh of course she did. Because doesn’t every slasher flick have a scene where some girl (AND IT’S ALWAYS A GIRL, GODDAMMIT) trips over an invisible tree root while she’s being pursued by a chainsaw/axe/machete-wielding maniac. It was a bit cheesy/trope-y, but I was willing to let it slide because the book wasn’t overly full of such moments, and I did like how it came back around later as Brooklyn became more evil and realized that her injuries seemed to be healing themselves.

The other moment was when Elijah went out into the woods to look for a possible psycho who was out there creeping around in the dark and coming after him and Brooklyn, and they had a whole discussion about why he couldn’t take his phone with him, with him insisting that he couldn’t take it because it was charging in the kitchen (which resulted in him taking Brooklyn’s phone, leaving her with no way to call for help/call him when shit goes down). I was like, OH MY GOD, ELIJAH, JUST GO UNPLUG YOUR PHONE FROM THE CHARGER. It’s not like you plug it in and the charger is permanently attached. The whole thing felt a little too convenient for me, and as a horror movie lover herself, Brooklyn should have known better. This moment redeemed itself a bit later, though, when Brooklyn admits that she should have known better.

Those were the only two negatives or complaints I had about the book, but as you can see, they’re not full-fledged negatives since I love cheesy horror movies, and I feel the book not only earns these moments, but also somewhat redeems them in a rather self-aware manner that I really enjoy.

Before I wrap up this lengthyyy discussion of the final installment in The Merciless series, I just want to quickly add that I loooooved the ending of this book. Loved. It. So. Much.

I really loved that we got to see the moment when Riley started to realize that Brooklyn was evil—that there was something truly wrong with her and she was no longer the teenage girl that she used to know—effectively bringing things full circle and setting us up for book one of the series. But most of all, I really, really loved how we got to see the beginning of book one, The Merciless, from Brooklyn’s point of view. Of course, we already know what happens in The Merciless, but we know it from Sofia’s point of view. So seeing it from the perspective of Brooklyn was captivating. I only wish we could get more from the POV of Evil-Possessed-Brooklyn.

Does that make me weird? Oh, well, I’m weird, then.

To wrap things up: if I were going to give this book a star rating, I’d give it five out of five (what?! Two five out of fives in a row?! Let’s hope we can keep this streak up), and I definitely recommend you read it. Read the whole series. Then read Survive the Night. Then read Burning and Breaking. I mean, or go in whatever order you want, but all in all, definitely read The Merciless books. I love the entire series, but my favorites are by far number one and number three (two just didn’t make me love it the way the first and third did), and I absolutely love that all the books create a perfect circle of storytelling.

So, what does everyone else think? Have you read The Merciless III yet? Did you love it? Which is your favorite of The Merciless series? Let me know in the comments below! You know I’d love to talk. <3

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