Review: The Initial Insult

As a big lover of The Female of the Species, I knew I needed to read Mindy McGinnis’ new book. Her writing just has this bite to it that’s so addictive and enthralling.

This post was originally published on The Nerd Daily.

Welcome to Amontillado, Ohio, where your last name is worth more than money, and secrets can be kept… for a price.

Tress Montor knows that her family used to mean something—until she didn’t have a family anymore. When her parents disappeared seven years ago while driving her best friend home, Tress lost everything. She might still be a Montor, but the entire town shuns her now that she lives with her drunken, one-eyed grandfather at what locals refer to as the “White Trash Zoo,” – a wild animal attraction featuring a zebra, a chimpanzee, and a panther, among other things.

Felicity Turnado has it all – looks, money, and a secret that she’s kept hidden. She knows that one misstep could send her tumbling from the top of the social ladder, and she’s worked hard to make everyone forget that she was with the Montors the night they disappeared. Felicity has buried what she knows so deeply that she can’t even remember what it is… only that she can’t look at Tress without having a panic attack.

But she’ll have to.

Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity – brick by brick – as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. With a drunken party above them, and a loose panther on the prowl, Tress will have her answers – or settle for revenge.

TW: death, parental death, seizures, kidnapping, torture, blood, gore, graphic description of injuries, neglect, animal death and abuse

My Thoughts:

The Initial Insult was a dark and riveting tale, full of spectacular touches and mysterious echoes. 

I’d previously read and absolutely fallen in love with McGinnis’ work through the phenomenal The Female of the Species. So hearing that she was working on another mystery and that it was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s work made for a tantalizing combination that was impossible to pass up. The very essence of Gothic fiction seeps into every word of this shadowy tale of death, broken friendships and the blood search for vengeance. This genre was a smart choice as it often allows for the exploration of darker, tougher topics which McGinnis does so well. Also, it grants some more creative license with some unexplained events creepily occurring in the background of our narrative and a highly unusual extra perspective we get to peek into. 

Often, there is a thin line between our search for justice and a burning desire for revenge. Tress has been tipped over the line after years and years of being mistreated and marginalised and with the aching burden of the uncertainty of what happened to her parents all those years. The only person who may know is her former best friend, Felicity. Both of these characters are deeply flawed and hiding their own secrets in their troubled, messy and multi-layered lives. They’re just so well-developed and crafted. It’s great how we get to really delve into each of their perspectives and understand their individual motivations behind their actions. Often, the same event is visited from both sides, allowing for a more realised and true to life depiction. Things are rarely as simple as they first seem. Part of the true hook of the story is trying to unpick the tangled mess that used to be their friendship, as well as wanting to solve the mystery. This makes for compulsive reading that you cannot find the strength to put down. 

This is a highly unusual book in terms of its narrative structure and the events that occur within its pages. However, this only works in its favour. It blends this strange, almost surreal tale with an unflinchingly honest and slightly gruesome internal mediation on one person’s quest for the truth and revenge. In the background, there’s this hedonistic night of debauchery that slowly starts to go very, very wrong. There’s some intriguing elements of the story that aren’t fully explained, which assumedly will be further expanded upon in the sequel. There’s more than enough to keep you racing through the pages, but McGinnis also doesn’t spell everything out, leaving gaps for your imagination to run off with for now. 

McGinnis’ signature strong style of writing meshes so well with the terrifying touches of Poe’s short stories. She goes dark and isn’t afraid to stay there, rarely allowing you a moment of lightness to relieve you from the sheer tension. This is a claustrophobic, heart-racing novel, where the atmosphere and the tension are incredibly thick. With every moment that passes, the danger only grows and you’re left genuinely unsure as to whether everyone will survive. 

Without saying too much, this review would be incomplete without mentioning the sheer brilliance of that ending. The book has naturally built up this point. It’s not purely for shock or dramatic effect, though it delivers both of them in spades. Instead, McGinnis has incrementally built up to this, laying narrative breadcrumbs that finally pay off. It leaves some great threads open for the sequel, while adding the darkness and flair of the Gothic. 

The Initial Insult is a horror thriller for the modern YA audience, jam-packed with suspense, disturbing events and plenty of Gothic style.

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