DARK WATERS by Katherine Arden โ€” ๐ŸŽƒ

blog - dark waters by katherine ardenIt’s been months since their last terrifying encounter with Seth the smiling man, and friends Brian, Coco, and Ollie have been hitting the books. The misfortunes they suffered over winter break have left them thoroughly spooked, and they want to better prepare themselves for their next inevitable meaning with the stalking fiend. To that end, they have been reading as much about their town’s history of hauntings and other paranormal phenomena. Their paranoid behavior worries their respective parents, however, and so when Coco’s journalist mother suggests they join her on a tour of Lake Champlain while she’s out on assignment, they think the outing will help improve their moods. Only Brian’s parents are hesitant, thinking their son’s slipping grades and distracted demeanor are due to the influence of his new best friends. They allow Brian to go, but only if he promises to limit their time together for the rest of the school year.

They soon set sail, finding themselves among another classmate who also suffered through their harrowing first encounter with Seth and his scarecrows last fall, and who might remember more of the experience than they initially realized. Before digging deeper into that particular mystery, the voyage meets an abrupt end when a creature who may or may not be Lake Champlain’s famous sea monster sinks the boat, leaving the survivors stranded on a nearby island โ€” one that is not recorded in any known charts. A liminal space that will be the grounds for yet another of the smiling man’s tormenting games, the challenges of which threaten to send the group of friends over the proverbial edge.

โ—‹

I have read and thoroughly enjoyed all three of the books currently out in Katherine Arden’s ๐˜š๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜š๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฆ๐˜ด seasonal quartet, but if I’m being totally honest here, I have a hard time remembering any of the plots from the previous entries. Not in any great detail at least. But it took reading ๐‘ซ๐’‚๐’“๐’Œ ๐‘พ๐’‚๐’•๐’†๐’“๐’” for me to realize that what I look for in these stories โ€” and other middle grade horror affairs โ€” are not intricate plots or intense personal drama, but rather ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฎ๐˜ฐ๐˜ด๐˜ฑ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ (or as a friend called it, “atmos๐˜ง๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ณ”). Which really should have been obvious to me in retrospect: the one thing I’ve praised in all of these books so far has been Arden’s aptitude for ambiance, which borders on the astonishing. Consider the following evocative excerpt:

Spring in East Evansburg, and the rain poured down like someone had turned on a hose in the sky. High in the Green Mountains, the rain turned snow into slush and turned earth into mud. It washed ruts into roads and set creeks to roaring. It sluiced down the roof of a small inn perched on a hillside above town.

The rain had begun at dawn, but now it was that long blue springtime twilight, getting close to dark, and the inn looked cozy in the soft light. The walls of the inn were white wooden clapboards, neatly painted. The roof was red metal. The sign said MOOSE LODGE, and it swung, creaking, in the spring wind.

And this is just what ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด the story.ย 

In addition to the excellent mood-setting, I’ve also come to admire the way she writes her set-pieces: slowly building them up before exploding them into tight, tense โ€” and most importantly, ๐˜ง๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ โ€” scenes. They do a lot in terms of moving the story along at a steady, stirring pace.

All in all, I enjoyed reading ๐˜‹๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด a lot, and would actually put it above the previous two books. I found the writing sharper and more focused than the earlier novels, which I attribute to the isolated setting of the island. Also, this is a creature feature, and those are often just great fun. But I love this series as a whole, and will eagerly anticipate its next and final entry. It’s supposed to be set during the summer, which will give me the perfect excuse to make spooky summer reads a proper tradition.

DEAD VOICES by Katherine Arden

 

dead voicesI’ve read enough middle grade horror to know that a lot of the books within the genre are mostly harmless, spooky fun. There are a lot of conspicuous exceptions, of course, but for everyย Coralineย there are at least a hundredย Goosebumpsย (and, look, I loveย Goosebumps as much as the next reader, but let’s be real โ€” it’s mostly goofy and schlocky fun).

Katherine Arden’s books fall more towards the Gaiman-end of the spectrum. There’s still no “real” horror here, but what Arden does deliver โ€” and in abundance โ€” is atmosphere. Which is fine by me: the spooky stories I find most effective are those defined by ambiance rather than terror โ€” and Dead Voices has ambiance to spare. Arden’s language is beautiful, her descriptions chilling and commanding. There are passages here so vivid that I could almost feel the New England cold down in my bones (which is โ€” as I mentioned in my previous review forย Pumpkinheads โ€” quite the feat when you consider I live on a Caribbean island in the midst of one of its hottest years on record).

A follow-up to last year’s excellentย Small Spaces,ย Dead Voices see our main trio โ€” principal protagonist Olivia, stoic and reliable Brian, and bubbly-but-insecure Coco โ€” and their respective parents on their way to a skiing trip to a local Vermont mountain. They are soon overwhelmed by a particularly strong snowstorm however, and find themselves stuck inside in the vast and newly renovated lodge in which the are making their stay.

Arden has mentioned in interviews that one of the main inspirations for this story is The Shining, which should give you some idea of what is to come.

As I mentioned above, mood and setting are what sets this story apart, but it also features charming, believable, and resourceful characters, and it’s very easy to root and feel for them. Particularly great is Ollie’s father, Roger, who had a small part inย Small Spacesย but a much expanded role in this book. A widower trying his best to raise a daughter as a single parent. A cook and lover of puns. Someone trying to kindle a relationship with someone new while still grieving an old flame. His is a realistic, rounded, and sympathetic portrayal, and a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre where parents are mostly absent and absent-minded.

Lyrical and atmospheric,ย Dead Voicesย is much more than a worthy sequel, and a great Hallowe’en read.