School is hell. Right?
Such forms the premise for The Changing Man, the debut from British writer Tomi Oyemakinde, that sees a trio of teenage protagonists try to solve the dark conspiracy at the heart of their elite boarding school before it consumes them all. It’s one of the most intriguing premises of this year, and with Oyemakinde drawing on his previous experience of being a Black student in boarding schools, helps explore complex themes of belonging and identity in the realms of a horror novel.
While the plot of The Changing Man is solid, Oyemakinde’s true strength here lies in its trio of central heroes – helplessly angry Ben, chronic people pleaser Bee, and the detached, pained Ife – each of whom has a solidly-crafted arc across the duration of the novel, whether that’s overcoming anger to channel it into action, learning to stand up for one’s beliefs, or, most pleasingly in Ife’s case, finding the strength to stand and fight in the face of immeasurable odds and ancient evil.
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The Changing Man wears its influences proudly on its sleeve – publishers Pan Macmillan are promoting it as Jordan Peele meets a typical YA thriller – and while it does dip into those influences (Peele in particular is a touchstone here), it also leans into the pulpier parts of science fiction, horror, and even the gothic fiction genre, making sure to make full use of its creepy boarding school premise.
To hint at what the secret at the heart of The Changing Man is would give away what is a truly neat plot twist, a subversion of tone and horror sub-genre that gives The Changing Man’s plot some extra legs, helping it propel itself towards a truly satisfying final act as character and spectacle combine, allowing for Ife’s final transformation from brittle, lost teenager, into selfless heroine.
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This isn’t to say that The Changing Man is without flaws – there are unusual character beats, some thinly-sketched out side characters and villains, and a confusing timeline that’s neither explained nor expanded on. However, for a novel that manages to craft multiple character arcs, create a compelling story, and skilfully blends sci-fi and horror for a young adult audience, The Changing Man is one of the year’s most enjoyable in the genre, and a promising debut for Oyemakinde; clearly someone to watch out for.
The Changing Man is out on 7th September from Pan Macmillan.