S L Grey is a collaboration of Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenburg and The Mall is, in its' own way, a book of two halves. The chapters are told from two different character perspectives (I'm guessing the authors took a character each and wrote alternate chapters). The story itself can also be put into two parts - 'during' and 'after', but we'll get to that later.
The two lead characters are Dan, an emo type who works in a shopping mall near his South African home and Rhoda, a junkie who is at the mall to score her next fix - accompanied by the young boy she is babysitting. Neither are nice people but as characters they work well together.
Dan and Rhoda are put together when her babysitting charge runs off into the back corridors of the mall. Rhoda bullies Dan into helping her look for him, they themselves head off into the back corridors and enter an alternate mall, deep in the bowels underneath the 'original' mall. And that alternate mall is like nothing you would expect (and certainly not somewhere you would want to find yourself. As they continue in their search they get messages on their mobile phones, even when those phones batteries have stopped working.
The alternate mall is very much reminiscent of computer game environments, most especially Silent Hill. There are people in the alternate mall whose sole reason for existing is to shop, shop, shop and others who are their solely to work in the shop, chained to their work counter for hour after hour. The first part of The Mall, the part set in the alternate mall, is some of the best horror I have read in a long time, there are scenes that will have you (forgive the cliché) on the edge of your seat and scenes that are so grotesque they are proper stomach turners. When it becomes clear they are not going to find the young boy the focus turns to trying to escape. The alternate mall is Hell on Earth, all they want is to get out but it seems no-one ever gets back to the surface.
So far, a cracking horror and if we were finishing here 5/5 stars........
But we aren't done yet.
It won't be too much of a spoiler to say Dan and Rhoda manage to escape, the young boy she Rhoda was babysitting is back home safe and sound and all is well with the world. This for me is where The Mall fell down a bit. Dan and Rhoda get on with their lives, with Rhoda moving in temporarily with Dan and his mother.
The thing is, they were terrified while they were in the alternate mall, all they wanted was to get away from the horror but by the end of the story they decide life is boring 'up top' so decide they have to head back to the mall and find their way back into the alternate mall - you know, the one they spent the first two thirds of the book desperately trying to get away from.
Don't get me wrong, the alternate view point chapters worked well, the story telling is tight for the most part and the alternate mall environment is truly one of the scariest in a long time. It's just the end that felt off to me, that I didn't really 'get'. The alternate mall is a horrible, disgusting, terrifying place and I can't imagine any situation that would be so bad that it would make anyone want to go back once they had escaped
So, for the alternate mall section - 5/5 stars
for the 'after' section - 3/5 stars
Final rating - 4/5 stars
There are two more in the series 'The Ward' and 'The New Girl' and the nasty, visceral horror of The Mall means I will be reading those soon....I just hope I enjoy their respective endings a bit more.