The Special Ones by Em Bailey
Published April 1, 2016 by Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars
From the blurb: Esther is one of the Special Ones – four teens who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? Here, they are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are – all while broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside.Esther knows he will renew her if she stops being Special. And yet she also knows she's a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, no genuine advice to offer her followers. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape.
The Special Ones is Em Bailey's second novel, and after reading it, I regret letting her debut, Shift, sit on my shelf unread for so long. From the moment I began reading I was immediately caught up in Esther's story, I could feel her fear - at the thought of doing a task incorrectly or of receiving her renewal notice. Her guilt over recruiting a new member was also apparent, yet she has to obey or risk her own life. I could feel her loneliness and longing, and I could sense the watcher, making sure his toys were all behaving as expected, and it sent chills through me.
The descriptions of her daily life were so vivid it was easy to picture the old house, the period clothing, and the manual tasks Esther and the others undertake each day. I found myself curious about how The Special Ones initially began, who was behind it, and why.
There is a point in the story when something changes and at first that left me a little disorientated, but I imagine that mimicked what Esther would have been feeling at the time too. The pacing picks up at this point, and the fear and urgency of her situation increased, culminating in a gripping ending.
The Special Ones is a creepy, compelling look at the mind of a psychopath, and how his game impacts the lives of his chosen participants.
Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for my review copy.