Faye and Felix are both hardworking young professionals – she as an assistant at the local zoo, he as an English lit PhD – so like any couple, they jump at the chance to stay at Faye’s parents’ cottage deep in the Rocky Mountains for a few days. At first, all appears to be well; the cottage is charming and comfortable, and the trails leading off the back of the cottage up the mountain are beckoning them. But soon things go awry. Voices call out from the dark, strange hands knock on the door, and Faye, who suffers from sleep terrors, spends her nights talking to an unknown entity. They decide to leave, but then the snow starts to fall, trapping them up the mountain.
Stolen Tongues originally started as an r/nosleep entry that’s since been expanded into a novel. Unfortunately it shows: it reads like a long Reddit post. It’s entertaining, but in desperate need of a good editor, and some things that work just fine in a short story are less suitable for a full length novel. The book tends to drag a little, not because the horror itself isn’t scary – it is, though it’s nothing Stephen King hasn’t written a hundred times over – but because it lacks depth. The prose is wildly uneven and the relationship between Felix and Faye is never really explored beyond “pretty wife” and “protective husband.” Felix spends a strange amount of time referring to her as ‘my fiancée’ (dude, she has a name!) and Faye weirdly seems to have no agency; considering most of the shit is happening to her you’d think she’d have an opinion on how to solve it, considering how she’s supposed to be headstrong and intelligent and opinionated, but she just kind of lets it happen. Felix, meanwhile, is full of thoughts about how he is going to be THE MANLY MALE MAN who PROTECTS his WIFE. He aims for Rambo but ends up more like, I don’t know, any random sitcom dad.
There are other things that bothered me, though. There are a few dead ends; the cabin’s scary basement is dropped in with airhorns blaring and subsequently completely forgotten about. The ending is laughably daft. And, of course, there is a whole spiel about native American legends and Wise Elders from Reservations who selflessly leap to the rescue. Weirdly, Blackwell includes a six-page essay on the disrespect Native American cultures have suffered through the ages, which culminates basically in him stating ‘look, there’s no way this wasn’t going to be offensive but I really wanted to include this angle and I was going to piss people off anyway, so I just did what I wanted.’ Apparently, clichés are what he wanted. I don’t consider myself the wokest of the woke, nor do I know much of anything about Native American culture, but it felt offensive to me.
I really wanted to like this; I was hoping for a diamond in the rough (the novel is self-publlished but has quite a bit of momentum online). And there is some merit there; much of the scary stuff is genuinely scary. The rest needs a good polish, though. The language needs finetuning, the characters need fleshing out. As with most horror, the moment the actual villain shows up is somewhat anticlimactic. I think Blackwell has it in him to write a good book, but should probably invest in an editor.