Bridget Liu is just a typical teen -- when she's not banishing demons, that is. As if hearing the voices of hellspawn isn't bad enough, her mysterious new powers appeared not long after her father's brutal murder. All Bridget wants is to reclaim her normal life, one without exorcisms or murder trials, visits from the Vatican or annoyingly persistent sons of the local police sergeant. Unfortunately for Bridget, that's not going to happen anytime soon -- because the forces of Hell have a message for her, and they'll stop at nothing till she heeds their call.
In Possess, debut author Gretchen McNeil blends ancient legend with unearthly horror to create a striking demonic mythology -- a fresh look at the other side of the angel coin. Bridget's adventures in exorcism are spine-tingling, and every chilling encounter will leave readers trembling -- especially the particularly hair-raising scene in a doll shop (shudder). Her strange new powers and a string of unnerving warnings from demonic messengers give the novel a streak of mystery, and readers will eagerly piece together the puzzle -- trying to stay one step ahead of Bridget as she learns the truth about the legions of Hell.
Bridget is an admirably independent heroine, determined to fight her own battles and carry her own crosses. Though she's more than a little damaged by the loss of her father and the discovery of her alarming new abilities, her flaws give her an honest, raw edge that will resonate with readers. Many of her relationships are rough around the edges, but the mutual adoration between Bridget and her little brother Sammy jumps off the page. Bridget is like a mother to Sammy, and her never-ending patience with his 8-year-old antics is endearing -- showing a softer side to balance her usual tough-as-nails veneer. Bridget tends to be one of the guys, and I would have loved to see more attention given to her best friend Hector, who is the perfect storm of sass and snark and insecurity.
This paranormal horror story is part murder mystery, part romance -- but unfortunately, the romance falls a little flat. Matt is a nice enough guy, if a little cliche -- the All-American, popular jock who falls for the school outsider. Yet, his constant "caretaker" attitude is cringe-inducing, especially since Bridget can clearly hold her own (probably better than Matt can). The fact that Bridget finds his overbearing behavior appealing is rather disappointing after her robust determination to remain a lone wolf. If ever there was a heroine who didn't need a hero, it's Bridget Liu. There is something not quite right about Matt -- but only time will tell if this is intentional foreshadowing by the author, or just a lackluster love interest.
Possess is a dark and edgy paranormal thriller, and McNeil doesn't shy away from creepy blood rituals or crazed demonic victims. There are clearly unknown depths to explore in this eerie new world, and readers will be eager for more of its infernal history and lore.
Disclosure: I received an ARC from the publisher for an honest review.