Long review short: I’m absolutely terrified of mountains now. Also possibly all of Switzerland.
“When did the idea first pop into my head that Nick’s trauma in the mountains had awakened some dangerous thing in him?”
Nick and Sam have been together for three years, but Sam hasn’t stopped worrying every time Nick goes mountain climbing. And then, he gets the call – Nick has been badly injured in the Swiss Alps and his climbing buddy is missing, presumed dead. Nick claims he doesn’t remember what happened, but some of the circumstances of his accident don’t quite add up. Before long, even Sam can’t logically explain away all of Nick’s differences. Torn between love and fear, what will it take for Sam to finally understand what happened on the mountain?
For the most part, the story is told through documents: notes from Sam, records from various doctors, emails, all interspersed with Nick’s written journal, a slow reveal of exactly what happened in the mountains. It’s somewhat slowly paced, but the tension builds steadily. After an absolutely gripping first chapter, the story skips back to Sam arriving in Switzerland after Nick’s accident, terrified and not sure what this will mean for their relationship. Sam is a well-drawn character, someone who freely admits that he was shallow enough to agree to date Nick because of how he looked at the gym with his shirt off. Unlike Nick, who’s Dutch, Sam is American and has that particular brand of sarcasm, something that he hopes will serve him well as he faces Nick’s uncertain recovery. Sam doesn’t think of himself as the strong one; he’s the one who’s always leaning on Nick, and the prospect of having to be that shoulder for him is overwhelming. Nick describes him once as “little, fragile Sam” and while Sam takes that initially as a physical descriptor, it’s also true of him emotionally. Part of that is that Sam has his own childhood trauma that he’s dealing with, one that makes him hate the outdoors and mountains in particular.
“If you, the climber, hear the mountain’s call, it will bewitch you, it will intoxicate you, and you will realize that you could fathom her only if you succumb to it—if you go up.”
Nick, on the other hand, loves the mountains. Mountain climbing is not a thing I’ve ever been interested in, but the author frankly does a great job at explaining why Nick loves it so much. It’s a sort of spiritual cleansing for him and something that’s as an integral part of Nick as Sam’s trauma is of himself. But while the two men may seem like opposites, they’re also deeply committed to each other. And that’s the genius of this book. It’s primarily a horror story, yes, but it wouldn’t work without the unconditional love between Nick and Sam. It’s one thing to be drawn into an unspeakable primordial horror; it’s another thing entirely to watch that happen to your loved one, and you can guess which one my romance-loving heart prefers. Sam’s terror at how this will affect their relationship slowly turns to terror once he starts accepting that what came back from the mountain isn’t wholly his Nick. It’s his determination to prove that his Nick is still there, that he can be saved, that kept me frantically turning pages.
Each chapter is named for a classic horror book and contains an initial quote; it didn’t take long to realize they were foreshadowing the events of that chapter. There’s more meta bits woven throughout, like one character complaining about his hatred of jump scares. Along with Sam’s humor, those parts added enough levity to make the book not feel stifling heavy. But while for the most part I think the pacing was well done, there were a few chapters that felt bogged down, where nothing really happened to further the story.
“When you go, please drag me down with you into the darkness.”
Overall, this was an engrossing slow-burn horror tale, full of love and determination, and I will be definitely be adding this author to my watch list.
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.