I wanted to post this as its own review because reading and thinking about this book made me so mad that it spurred me to catch up on my reviews just so I could talk about this stupid awful book.
I’m being mean because I was so hopeful at the beginning and so let down so quickly.
Ararat by Christopher Golden is about an archeological/documentary/explorer crew who, while on a dig documenting what appears to be Noah’s Ark thousands of feet above sea level on Mount Ararat in Turkey, are trapped in a massive blizzard. And oh yes, one of the human (?) remains they’ve found of the original inhabitants has massive horns.
I was so excited for this book, y’all. I love “oh no we’re snowed in”. I love closed loop mysteries. I love groups of people forced into close proximity. I love questioning whether there’s something paranormal at work. I love theological discussions playing out through genre fiction. But Jesus H. Christ was this a slog.
I’ll number my complaints and I will have some positive things to say at the end, but I am going to explode if I don’t get these out there.
(1) Not Golden’s fault, but the narrator of the audiobook, when doing the voice of a main character Meryam Karga, is unlistenable. I have to respect his decision to aim high but I do not have to like it or be able to stand it.
(2) The impression I get from Golden’s writing of his female characters is that he asked some women in his life what it’s like to be a woman, then wrote that down verbatim without actually ever doing the work of empathizing and thinking about what it must feel like. Scenes where Meryam, acting as project manager, is facing off against sexist men come off as surface level and inauthentic, and I’d rather Golden have just left them out. Having been a female project manager on a team with sexist men, I actually don’t enjoy reading a man explain what it’s like to experience misogny to me. Poorly.
(3) Similarly, we learn every detail about every single character the second we meet them. Not in a cool interesting way, no. It mostly takes the form of things like entire pages without dialogue or action where Golden tells us everything about Ben Walker, who I guess becomes the focus of a series, and his relationship with his ex-wife and why they divorced and how actually, Walker was just protecting her. Because, oh yeah, Walker on paper works for the National Science Foundation, but actually works for DARPA investigating possible threats/opportunities! Which is a killer premise, by the way, that Golden spoils by telling us exactly what it entails and how Walker feels about it within a few pages of meeting him. We know [practically] everything about every character and it leaves absolutely no room for tension or any amount of mystery. Instead it’s just aggravating, having to hear the same backstories multiple times while you’re just trying to learn if the guy with horns is an actual demon or what.
(4) I generally don’t mind slow writing. I think it can be really interesting and suspenseful when done intentionally. I would say Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas is slow, but it was one of my favorite and spookiest reads of last year. What Golden has done here, however, is not interesting or suspenseful. The first half of the book is based on the formula of [half page of spooky action] [three to five pages of a random character telling us how this reminds them of something from their past but not saying this to another character, just narrating] [repeat].
I will stop here to admit that I only skimmed through the last half of the book, enough to get where it was going and decide that I didn’t need to spend the time actually reading it. Maybe it’s filled with actually great terrifying scenes that redeem the rest of the book. I’ll never know and I don’t care enough to find out. Christopher Golden did not earn the benefit of the doubt with the first half.
(5) None of the character relationships actually make sense? I don’t know, maybe I got resentful, but the few exchanges of dialogue or action moments genuinely baffled me. I think maybe what happened is that Golden relied on his narration to establish characters’ baselines so that when they were subjected to the influence of the demon(?) it was clear that something was amiss. But, uh, it didn’t work, and the end result was that every character blended into each other and I don’t know any of them.
(6) The last line is complete garbage and honestly kind of embarrassing.
I’ll be a little self-reflective here and say that the reason I’m being so critical and barely constructive is that I think I see these issues in my own writing and it’s something I’m critical of myself for. I also dislike series, for the most part, and it was pretty clear that this was being set up for a series starring the character I was the least interested in.
I think Ararat could have benefited immensely from major structural editing and rewrites. Leave some aspects of the characters hidden so that there’s something to reveal later. Tighten up the pace so we actually feel the blizzard coming and the fear amongst the crew. Learn a little bit of subtlety, maybe.
Because I love this premise. I see a lot of potential in the characters. I think Christopher Golden and I probably watched the same episodes of the X-Files and loved them for the same reasons, but Ararat seems like an attempt to replicate those episodes instead of understanding why we liked them in the first place.
[I’ve always thought Kate Racculia does a great job of that, by the way. More whimsical mystery than horror, but still excellent.]
I’m not going to read anything else by Golden because I can tell that he’s not my cup of tea, but I can imagine that there are readers who enjoy his work and would enjoy this. I wouldn’t bill it as horror or suspense, maybe paranormal mystery? Which is why I’ve rated it a 1.5 rounded to 2 stars instead of 1.
I also will say that reading this and thinking about what didn’t work for me did give me a better understanding of what I want my fiction to look like and what I should look out for in my own writing, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
But I’m still angry about it.