Savage Island #2: Cruel Castle – Bryony Pearce

It’s been six months since the Iron Teen Tragedy, something that readers of Savage Island will immediately recognise as PR spin. Only Grady, Ben and Lizzie know the truth about what really happened on Aikenhead, Marcus Gold’s private island.

While Ben and Lizzie have been in hiding from Gold, Grady has been working for him. For the past four months he’s been one of the participants in Gold’s graduate programme in London. When he learns he’s being sent on a team building weekend at Stowerling Keep, Gold’s castle in Scotland, Grady knows this won’t be any ordinary team building exercise. He is certain it’s going to be Aikenhead 2.0.

Stowerling Keep. It’s going to make Aikenhead look like Disneyland.

Accompanying conspiracy theorist Grady on this potential bloodbath are several of his fellow graduates:

  • Aanay, who seems too nice to have made it into Gold’s graduate programme
  • Bella, a girl who uses her looks to manipulate others into doing her bidding
  • Dawson, one of the “clones”, who won’t let anyone see what he’s written in the notebook he carries in his trouser pocket
  • Iris, who doesn’t talk to anyone.

Of course, Ben and Lizzie aren’t going to let an opportunity to expose Gold’s nefarious deeds to the world go to waste. They may not have received a personal invitation from Gold to come to Stowerling Keep but that’s why infiltration was invented.

Savage Island was one of my favourite reads of 2018 and while many books I’ve read since then are now pretty fuzzy in my mind, my memory of it remains sharp. If I had to describe it in three words, it would be Survivor: Psychopath Edition. It felt fresh. It surprised me. I didn’t know where it was going. I’m all for gore in my horror and it gave me some “ew!” moments. I absolutely adored it!

Naturally, I was all in when I learned there was a sequel. I enjoyed it but it didn’t pack the punch of the original for me. In horror sequels I expect the body count to be higher, the deaths to be more gruesome and the twists to just keep on coming.

This sequel plays out in a series of escape rooms, which I’ve seen done so many times now, and for it to have given me the wow factor of the first book it would have needed to up the ante in a massive way. There is plenty of blood to paint the walls with, there’s bone crunching and some insides that are now your outsides action to look forward to but it felt somewhat tame to me when I compared it with Savage Island.

Told in four voices, Ben, Lizzie, Grady and another whose name I won’t mention because spoilers, I got a sense of what everyone’s state of mind was as we progressed through the ‘team building’. Switching up the perspectives also helped to propel the story along and provided opportunities for flashbacks to help explain the relevant backstories.

While I liked being able to get inside Grady’s head, I never really bought what was going on with Ben. If I hadn’t already encountered that explanation multiple times before, in books and movies, then it might have made sense to me but I’ve seen it done too many times (and usually not well) so I wasn’t as receptive to it here. This probably won’t be a problem for younger readers, who won’t have come across this or escape rooms as many times as I have.

It probably sounds like I didn’t have fun reading this book. I did, though, and I’m really looking forward to reading more books by this author. If anything, because I loved Savage Island so much, my expectations for this book may have been unreasonably high.

If a third book in the series is ever written, I’ll be there at the front of the queue to read it. I’d just hoped this book would be completely over the top (in a good way) like the first book was.

I would still recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA horror. For context, though, and to understand what the three main characters have already survived, you’ll want to read Savage Island first.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide and mental health.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

They thought the island was the end. It was only the beginning…

Having survived the horrors of Savage Island, Grady is now stuck working for Gold, the psychopath who masterminded the gruesome competition. Sent on a “team-building exercise” in a remote castle, he starts to plot his escape.

Ben and Lizzie are in hiding, presumed dead after escaping the island. If they’re ever to return to their families, they need to bring Gold down. So they secretly join Grady in the castle. But as the doors slam shut and the series of deadly challenges between them and freedom are revealed, it looks like history is going to repeat itself…

A Red Eye horror novel for teens, this gripping sequel to Savage Island is full of fast-paced action and gruesome twists and turns. 

Savage Island – Bryony Pearce


Wait! What? Outlive?! You won’t see Jeff Probst’s cheeky smile or hear his cheerful jibes at contestants in this game of Survivor! In this game the stakes are high and so are the potential rewards.

10 teams!
5 people per team!
3 days!
£1 million each to the winning team!

When Lizzie finds details online about Iron Teen, hosted by multibillionaire Marcus Gold, founder of Gold Foundation, she eagerly tells her friends Ben, Grady, Carmen and Will about this exciting opportunity. The five have previously completed the Duke of Edinburgh together so they’re confident they have a good chance of winning Iron Teen and taking home the cash.

On the verge of adulthood and with dreams of university, starting a business or helping out their struggling family at the forefront of their minds, the five friends decide that this opportunity is too good to miss.

Furnished with their initial instructions and backpacks filled to the brim with supplies (I’m looking at you here, Grady), they think they have everything they need to complete the unknown challenges awaiting them on Aikenhead, Gold’s private island. They’re confident that between them they have the brains, brawn and endurance required to succeed.

In this game teams need to race around the island to find locked boxes that contain the coordinates to the next location, clues to solve the puzzle that will grant them access to the next locked box and a geocache box. They will need to take whatever is in each geocache box and replace it with something “of equal or greater value at each checkpoint.”

The winning team will be the ones with the quickest time who bring all of their collected items with them to the final checkpoint. Lizzie’s team are excited for a challenging but fun adventure that has the potential to set them up financially so they can live their dreams.

Once on the island our five adventurers learn that the game is not what they expected. The terrain can be treacherous and there’s no one to help them other than their teammates. Oh, and the other teams are hunting their fellow competitors for body parts. There will be no escape until the game is over because the crossing between the island and the safety of the real world is only raised every three days.

The characters, action, pacing, gore and backstories combined made for a book I didn’t want to put down. While there was plenty of action and at times I felt breathless when I realised I’d held my breath during a scene, there were also times of connection between the teammates as well as suspense as the characters and myself waited for the next horror to unfold. I’ve read plenty of books with gore in them so the descriptions here were certainly not the most graphic or gross that I’ve come across, but in terms of a young adult book it would rate quite high on the ‘Eww!’ meter.

The characters’ personalities and voices were distinct and memorable. I loved Grady’s wacky conspiracy theories. I enjoyed Car’s sassy remarks and Lizzie’s enthusiasm. Ben’s sensitivity was so sweet, as was his not so secret love for Lizzie. Will’s character was particularly interesting and while Grady was my favourite character, Will came a close second.

I particularly loved the exploration of the relationship between the two brothers, Ben and Will. The flashback scenes of their childhood experiences added a depth to a story that could easily have simply become a gore-fest. I didn’t expect the sensitivity of the portrayal of the mental illness within their family.

Through flashbacks and their current circumstances the dynamics of this family is examined. We not only get to witness the effects that mental illness has on each individual; we also see its impact on the relationships between family members. I definitely understood and empathised with the protector role.

What delighted me above all was that I was surprised by both characters and events at the end. I was surprised by certain actions of two characters and the actions of a third, while I saw it coming, had me rethinking whether I still liked them or not. Usually young adult books, while entertaining, are generally fairly predictable. I had some ideas of where the plot was heading but I not only didn’t guess the end, it was also better than anything I’d come up with myself.

Another unexpected bonus was that this story got me to thinking about what I’d do if I was in any one of the character’s places. Black and white moral questions greyed for some characters and in most situations I could understand where they were coming from. I loved the questions this book made me consider for myself:

  • What would I be willing to do to win £1 million?
  • What sacrifices would I be willing to make?
  • How much is my integrity worth to me?
  • Would £1 million cover the therapy bills I’d need to pay if I compromised my morals enough that I did what I had to in order to win?
  • Is there a point of no return where the end justifies the means and what type of person is willing to cross this line?
  • If you hurt me, does that then entitle me to take revenge on you?

I had just one unanswered question at the end of this book and while it’s possible I missed the explanation, it is bugging me. Why was team 10 disqualified?

I need to go find some more of Bryony Pearce’s novels. If this novel is any indication of her talent her back catalogue is going to be making its way to my Kindle fairly soon.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book. I knew from having already read Charlotte Says that I was interested in reading more Red Eye books. Now I’m convinced I need to read them all!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When reclusive millionaire Marcus Gold announces that he’s going to be staging an “Iron Teen” competition on his private island in the Outer Hebrides, teenagers Ben, Lizzie, Will, Grady and Carmen sign up – the prize is £1 million pounds … each. But when the competition begins, the group begin to regret their decision. Other teams are hunting their competitors and attacking them for body parts. Can the friends stick together under such extreme pressure to survive? When lives are at stake, you find out who you can really trust …

A Red Eye horror novel for teens, this gripping YA thriller story is full of fast-paced action.