“STRANDED” (Book Review)Book and Comic Reviews,Books/Art/Culture,News Michele "Izzy" Galgana
If you’re not quite familiar with horror author Bracken MacLeod, you will be after the release of his debut novel STRANDED, out October 3 from Tor. In fact, Warner Brothers Television/Macmillan Entertainment has already optioned the tome. MacLeod himself describes it as “THE THING meets JACOB’S LADDER.” If you’re a huge horror fan and that doesn’t have you drooling, there’s something wrong with you.
Having read MacLeod’s previous novellas MOUNTAIN HOME and WHITE KNIGHT, in addition to some of his short stories, I can say that this author has grown in skill, effectiveness, and force. WHITE KNIGHT was very good; MOUNTAIN HOME was great; and STRANDED is fantastic. If it were a movie, it’d be a well-honed ensemble piece with an excellent script and a great cast. But if all goes well, the property will air on TV, where it’s quite well suited — I’m guessing a miniseries, but who knows? There are tons of cliffhangers, creepy developments, and lots of chilling action that could draw in viewers week after week. But for now, we’re talking about the book: if you’re looking for a page-turner that will keep you from doing chores, homework, paying bills, or anything quasi-important, this is the book for you.
The harrowing prose evokes images of John Carpenter’s THE THING — as well as ship-based reality TV shows like DEADLIEST CATCH. Perhaps most of all, STRANDED recalls Sir Ernest Shackleton’s agonizing Antarctic expedition with the Endurance; likewise, the hapless characters who sail upon the Arctic Promise in STRANDED get trapped in freezing temperatures as tempers heat up and their ship is beset in ice.
Here’s the official synopsis:
Badly battered by an apocalyptic storm, the crew of the Arctic Promise find themselves in increasingly dire circumstances as they sail blindly into unfamiliar waters and an ominously thickening fog. Without functioning navigation or communication equipment, they are lost and completely alone. One by one, the men fall prey to a mysterious illness. Deckhand Noah Cabot is the only person unaffected by the strange force plaguing the ship and her crew, which does little to ease their growing distrust of him.
Dismissing Noah’s warnings of worsening conditions, the captain of the ship presses on until the sea freezes into ice and they can go no farther. When the men are ordered overboard in an attempt to break the ship free by hand, the fog clears, revealing a faint shape in the distance that may or may not be their destination. Noah leads the last of the able-bodied crew on a journey across the ice and into an uncertain future where they must fight for their lives against the elements, the ghosts of the past and, ultimately, themselves.
This is a challenging review to write, because I really don’t want to give anything away. This description is pretty good, but it doesn’t convey the otherworldly events that occur with increasing frequency as you get deeper into the book. To say much more than that would be to do the story a disservice by ruining the surprises; sometimes, they’re hidden with such subtle finesse that I had to flip back and reread a passage to fully appreciate what was happening. And that’s a good thing, a creepy-as-hell thing, like there’s something happening in the periphery of your vision that you weren’t quite sure was there. STRANDED promises plenty of dread and tension as the chapters and hours fly by.
For those of us who like our horror smart, this is a VERY good thing.
The synopsis also doesn’t (nor could it) effectively describe the emotions and motivations of STRANDED’s protagonist, Noah Cabot. He’s lost a few people close to him, and while I hesitate to label him as a tragic figure, an air of tragedy follows him. There’s one passage in particular — a flashback about one of those lost loved ones — that made me tear up. STRANDED is a book that veers off the path of well-defined horror paths to navigate more speculative waters. Sometimes a broken, spinning compass leads to the past, to nightmares, and sometimes, right back to ourselves. STRANDED is smart, multifaceted horror indeed.