The Owls Have Come To Take Us Away

The Owls Have Come To Take Us Away was written by Ronald L Smith and first published in 2019. It is a middle grade science fiction story which focuses on a young boy who is terrified of aliens. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

Simon is obsessed with aliens, but not in a good way. He’s put a lot of time into researching the Greys – the ones that abduct people and take them away. His beliefs have driven his tough, military man father to despair. He just wants Simon to be manly and athletic like his older brother. He has no time for Simon’s flights of fancy and childish fears.

Then, one fateful night, Simon has a weird experience in the woods. All he remembers is a bright light and a looming owl before he blacked out. When he awakes, he discovers an odd scar on his belly and realises the truth. He has been taken by the Greys and now they have put an implant inside him. That means that they are likely to come back.

As Simon’s behaviour grows more erratic, his relationship with his father gets worse and worse. His parents will not believe him about the aliens and are desperate for him to get psychological help. Luckily for Simon, he manages to get in touch with MUFON – a group of people who hold the same beliefs as him. But did Simon really have a close encounter and, if so, what is it that the aliens want?

I must admit that I was really excited to read this novel. Part of this was to do with the cover, which is gorgeous, but I am also a huge fan of abduction stories. There is just something inherently creepy about Greys, with their almost-human features yet utterly incomprehensible motivations. I was really excited to see just what Smith intended to do with this concept to make it accessible for young readers. However, I do have some mixed feelings with regards to the results.

To begin with the positive, The Owls Have Come To Take Us Away is a very creepy story. In fact, so much so that I would probably recommend that parents check it out first before giving it to young or sensitive readers. During Simon’s encounters with the “owls”, it becomes increasingly clear just how helpless he is. There is no way that he can protect himself from the aliens – no matter what he does, they will always find him. It really brought to mind the likes of Twin Peaks and The Fourth Kind.

The story also did a great job of maintaining its ambiguity, leaving the reader never quite sure if there would be a mundane explanation to Simon’s encounter. I personally found this to be fantastically effective as it meant that I never got bored. I kept reading primarily because I wanted to find out if Simon’s experience was real, especially as Simon started to see shady men in black suits and meet other people who had also seen aliens. Smith did a great job in building this mystery and certainly kept me guessing.

However, as interesting as the concept was, I did have a few issues with is execution. Simon’s narrative is very simplistic, even for a middle grade novel, as it is entirely presented as the stream of consciousness of a twelve-year-old boy. Much like in Slender Man, the story also contains frequent excepts from a novel that Simon is trying to write. This story-within-a-story is a rather unoriginal fantasy tale about a boy discovering that he is half fae and, while it does vaguely mirror the main plot, it never felt necessary. It just served to bog down the story and therefore never captured my interest.

The plot of The Owls Have Come To Take Us Away also didn’t have much structure. Despite the eerie content, it never truly felt as though it was building to anything. Although Simon does make a couple of attempts to prove that he was abducted, there isn’t ever really any sense that he is ever in danger. The aliens, if they do exist, are unknowable monsters who never really seem to pose any physical threat and Simon doesn’t ever come into contact with any of the men in black.

As there was no real build up, the ending of the novel felt very abrupt. Up until the last few pages, I had no idea where the story was going. While I did actually rather like the ultimate conclusion, I did feel that perhaps there could have been more hints towards it throughout the story. As the book is rather short, it didn’t really feel as though it had fully started before it was over.

And then, there were the characters. Simon had all of the potential to be a great protagonist. He was presented as a biracial asthmatic “nerd” and therefore a constant disappointment to his white, overly masculine, military man father. Yet, unfortunately, the story did not do anything with this. While Simon’s dad seemed to be genuinely vile and it is clear that Simon resents him for his toxic masculinity, he is also never given the opportunity to confront him about this. While the novel opens on this plot thread, it just felt as though it had been forgotten about in the second half of the story.

Simon also never really shows any doubt about what has happened to him, always resolutely believing in his abduction and never listening to any of the more rational explanations that he is given. The novel even goes as far as to vilify the doctor who tries to help him, dismissing the therapy that she offers and portraying the medicine that she prescribes as being “bad” because it makes Simon feel tired. I must admit that I found this message a little harmful, as it seemed to be dismissing the good that counselling and the medical treatment of psychological disorders can do.

The rest of the supporting cast also did not receive enough development. Tony and Miranda just believe Simon without question, despite the fact that the only proof that he has for his claims is a small scar. Simon’s mother was also problematic, as she was portrayed as being a shrinking violet. It’s not clear how she came to be with Simon’s father as their personalities are so different, and it was annoying how little she stood up for Simon. Although she occasionally defied her husband, we never really saw her defending Simon from him when he was being awful.

Anyhow, I think that about covers everything. All in all, The Owls Have Come To Take Us Away is a bit of mixed bag. While I did really like the concept and think that it was incredibly creepy in places, the story was a little weak and the characters could have done with more development. Still, it is certainly a novel that I would recommend to young horror fans and I would certainly read more of Smith’s work in the future.

The Owls Have Come To Take Us Away can be purchased as a Hardback on Amazon.co.uk

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Glow: Book 1 – Potency | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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