Who is the Messenger? He’s the one who will judge you for the unpunished sins you commit. He’s the one who will find you, even if nobody else has, and offer you a choice. The choice to win a game, and go free; or to lose and face your deepest fear. Your sins will not go unpunished. And Mara is his apprentice.
Since finishing the Gone series, Michael Grant has spent the last few years churning out novels and series like the Armageddon is upon us. He’s deftly explored a technological world of nanowarfare and governmental conspiracy in BZRK; dipped into an alternate World War Two with combative women with Front Lines; and in Messenger of Fear, dipped his toes into the waters of supernatural fiction. Some of these experiments have paid off more than others.
Messenger of Fear, unfortunately, is one of his weaker attempts. Though a fascinating concept – a supernatural force tasked with the punishment of anyone who has gotten away with their sins – Grant fails to pull it off any more than as a proof of concept. And the problem, predominantly, lies in two things: the lack of any driving force or real conflict that constitutes a plot beyond the relatively contrived voyeuristic glances into the lives of four teenagers; and a protagonist who suffers from amnesia and therefore has little characterisation.
That said, Messenger of Fear is probably Grant’s most introspective and philosophical texts, dealing with ideas of punishment and justice (though rarely subtly). The antagonists – this time cruel teenagers – are caricatures, with little room for any moral ambiguity. Some interesting ideas are snowballed around towards the end of the novel – including some much-needed world-building and a “revelation” that should have come much earlier – but as a whole, Messenger of Fear never feels like an establishing novel, never really moving beyond a beginning.