Emma, Norman and Ray enjoy a happy, albeit formulaic life at the Grace Field House orphanage. Looked after by a warm caretaker they lovingly call “Mom”, the trio are the smartest at the orphanage and regularly care for the younger kids with a sense of duty and respect.
Yet, there’s something…off about their lifestyle. Wearing all white, with ID numbers on their necks, and subjected to daily testing, the reader immediately gets the sense that all is not well at the orphanage. Following the departure of a fellow orphan named Conny, Emma discovers the little girl’s prized bunny left in her room. When she follows to return the stuffed toy, their world is shattered by the grotesque reality of their existence: Conny had been killed, and was being prepared as fresh meat for demons to consume. Not only that, the matronly figure known as “Mom”, otherwise known as Isabella, appears to be complacent in the raising of these children as food.
In an instant, the reality of these children is shattered. And yet, they have to do their best to maintain that nothing happened for fear of giving away their position to Isabella and securing their deaths. The remainder of the volume revolves around the three children making plans to escape, while Isabella makes moves of her own in an elaborate game of cat and mouse.
It took me a while to get around to reading The Promised Neverland, and I’m so glad I caught up!
To get the negative out of the way: I had pretty much called their “true” existence within the first chapter. Seriously, the kids are all freaking out about being “food” and I’m just sitting there going
That being said, the “kids are food, not friends” twist came pretty early on in the debut volume, with the remaining 75% of the book being dedicated to the children’s intellectual tussle with Isabella.
This “cold war” of sorts is where the volume really shines. Aside from the graphic early encounter with the demons, The Promised Neverland avoids throwing the reader into a sudden battle with demons and instead opts for a “slow-burn” approach, to great effect. Norman and Ray’s discussions about strategy, theorizing about why Isabella is taking the actions she is, and exploring possible solutions while simultaneously playing devil’s advocate to themselves is a delight to watch. Likewise, frames with Isabella’s seemingly knowing glances and icy-cold grins are enough to send shivers down your spine.
Emma possesses the familiar optimism that plagues many heroes early on in their journey. She repeatedly states that she wants to “save everyone” – a red flag that she will almost certainly not save everyone, and in fact it will likely end up more like this:
That being said, the respect and admiration she has for Norman and Ray helps to spur her forward, encouraging her to think more strategically and make a critical discovery before the volume ends. I’m interested to see how she continues to grow and evolve in the volumes to come!
Overall, The Promised Neverland kicks off with less of a bang, and more of a hiss as the wick of this explosive series is unceremoniously lit.
Look forward to our review of volume 2 in the next week!