A trip to California, a new life and a fresh start: in the pioneer days, many took the hard path of a wagon train for the chance to strike it rich and see the vistas of the West. But in 1846, the Donner Party sets out a little too late in the season and then hits one snag after another.
Soon the bad luck piling on them seems ominous, like evil is following them or somehow attached to their group—and in the mountains, the weather is starting to turn cold. But perhaps there is more to this streak of inauspicious coincidences. Is there something in the wilderness, waiting for them?
Growing up in the West, I have definitely heard all about the Donner Party and their ill-fated journey. (When it comes to cannibals, my favorite is probably Alferd Packer, but that’s a story for another time.) And though I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, I always enjoy it—like Dan Simmons’s The Abominable. So this one seemed right up my alley.
I was so on board with the tension and the buildup of this book. Katsu brilliantly weaves subtle prickles of horror, letting the reader see just enough down the trail to realize that nothing good can come from venturing onward, but never quite revealing the full extent of the horror.
I thought that Katsu did a great job with writing from the perspectives of all the characters, but I felt that by the end of the book, a few of the ones I was more interested in had faded into the background. Perhaps there were too many voices in the book.
For me, the flashbacks at the end of each section could have been a little more explanatory, especially toward the end, in explaining exactly what was going on. The information that they revealed was mostly information that I had picked up from the characters as subtext. It didn’t really need further explanation.
I expected the end of the book to have more action, to be a real culmination of all the terror, hardship, and suffering that they went through. I didn’t feel that the ending of the book paid off based on how the tension was built—I kept waiting for the true horror to drop and I felt that the book never really went there.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this one and would recommend it to anyone interested in slowburn novels or historical fiction. Even if horror is not really your thing, this book skirts the line, and has elements of romance, adventure, and history that a lot of people would enjoy.
The Nightworms would like to thank Glasstown Ent., Putnam, and the author for sending us all copies of this book to review.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.