Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2022
Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: gore, suicide and suicidal ideation, discussion of gulags, gun violence, violence against animals
Filmmaker Teig and his cameraman Prentiss are searching for a hit that would bring them out of financial doldrums after several failed reality television projects. The sordid and haunted history behind the Kolyma highway seems to be a great backdrop for a new paranormal investigation series. Until something dark and hungry comes out of the woods and leads these desperate men through a high octane chase across a landscape designed to kill all who enter it.
Really spooky and kept me rooted to the audiobook just to find out what happens next and how the different emotional threads and character arcs resolve.
The pacing of this novel really fits its short length. There are some moments to breathe between the starts and stops of being chased by cryptids, most of which are used to explore the characters deeper. I really liked Nari the best, as her introduction gives the reader several reasons to write her off as materialistic, but she proves to be a force to be reckoned with.
Plus the relationship between Prentiss and Teig really worked for me. They both have demons from their past figuratively haunting them. The choice to introduce it with flippant humor that then unfolds into an earnestness that helped me connect with them, even as the peril to their lives increases. There’s attempts at atonement and apology. In a fashion true to the genre, the extent of the outcome varies wildly.
I found the exploration of folklore versus ghost stories versus urban legends to be really well meshed together, showing a passion for the subjects that comes out organically throughout the narrative. I must say, however, I feel like there must have been a sensitivity edit between the initial cover blurb and the final copy of the book. Throughout the text, Golden appears to take care to delineate between the parnee haunting the woods and the people in the region who practice and believe in animism. Each character introduced has their own arc and no one seems safe from the spirits trying to keep those looking to make a buck out of the story out of the literal woods. (Please note that I am not of the background to judge the success of these changes.)
The ending is haunting and fitting of a horror, hitting emotional beats and wrapping up threads introduced between the action scenes that came before.