I will admit straight off that I’m not a huge fan of action and sci-fi stories. I know, I am terrible. There's no need to tell me. I don’t know why I am the way that I am but that’s how I am. So I went into this after hearing over and over again that it was one of the best books of 2019, and hoping with every hope in my being that the creep factor would be enough to keep me going. If it wasn’t enough and I had to DNF this book I would have to be the lone voice of negativity and I don’t like being that person and truly it would’ve been my own fault. Fortunately for me, the horror vibe was creepy enough to keep me going through all of the action/adventure/sci-fi bits when I otherwise might've noped out but what truly surprised me was how much I wanted to keep reading to find out how everything ended for the two characters in the story. The complicated relationship that develops ever so slowly between caver Gyre and her guide Em was more than enough for me. I’m a sucker for flawed and complex relationships and this is a great one. There’s a lot of pain and hurt and backstory and damage here and I loved getting down into it and watching it all get picked apart and brought to the surface.
This book is overwhelmingly claustrophobic and the atmosphere is painstakingly put down on the page. There may even be a monster lurking in the cave! I almost forgot about that bit of added terror. Trust me, you’ll want to read this book somewhere bright. Somewhere with a lot of air. Maybe somewhere you can hear the birds sing a lovely song to you. It is that intense. There is also some squirm worthy and delightful, depending on your level of weirdness, body horror that happens here. Gyre, the caver, has been fitted and physically modified into her suit as were some other folks we meet along the way but I won’t say anything more about that, nor will I tell you about the plot because I don’t want to spoil and maybe I’m a little lazy. But I will tell you that some of that stuff really made me cringe a bit in horror and I love it when a book hits me that way.
There are many 5 star reviews for this book and I’m going to be here giving it a four and ½ and I won’t be rounding up because of my personal preferences and because some of it was a little bit of a slog for me, if you want to know the honest truth It is not a book I’d reread again but I wasn’t disappointed with the horror bits and the emotional wringer the characters put me through. Definitely recommended and an incredible debut.
Before you ask, it was a Christmas present.
The depiction of every single character in this is spot on.
My favourite part: That Boris J. was introduced in the Dramatis Personae as "a law unto himself", whereas almost every other character was introduced by their actual title (with the other exceptions of David Cummings and Michael Gove's wife Sarah Vine as "Lady Macbeth").
Was it funny: Erm, ... yes. I guess. But the subject matter is not.
Was it true to life? Hell yes. Painfully so.
So, why did this not work for me?
Meh. It was the Shakespeare bit. I needed more. I needed more creativity and wordplay. This book didn't even come close to the cleverness of "the Bard's" Star Wars versions. It fell absolutely flat from a language aspect, and also mostly from a dramatic writing aspect.
I know. I expected way too much.
Overall, I really loved this book. 100% would read it again. The atmosphere was awesome and I really enjoyed the character developments in Gyre and Em, as well as their development in relation to each other. The pacing felt awesome as well. There were enough highs and lows where I didn't feel like the book was rushing along or dragging. It could be slow at times but never in a way that made me reluctant to pick it up again.
As far as things I would have liked, I feel like there were some missed opportunities in regards to the horror element of the book. I really would have enjoyed more in regards to the technical nature of caving. When I pictured it in my head, it felt more like walking through a mine/rock climbing than caving itself, which kind of lessened the effectiveness for me. Having worked with and been friends with cavers, I know about maneuvers and risks that literally happen as part of typical caving that would have amped the horror up in this book to a whole new level. Seriously, look up Jam Crack in the Glenwood Caverns and that alone demonstrates what I mean.
Final rating 5/5: I truly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
Final thought: It'd be cool to have this adapted as a video game. That's kind of how it played out in my head and I think it'd be a lot of fun to play a game as Gyre.