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I Belong

Review: Stranded by Bracken Macleod

Title: Stranded

Author: Bracken MacLeod

Genre: Horror

Series: N/A

Publication Date: October 4, 2016

Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages

ISBN-10: 0765382431 (Macmillan/Tor)

ISBN-13: 978-0765382436 (Macmillan/Tor)

Reviewed by: Stephanie


In the spirit of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Jacob’s Ladder comes a terrifying, icebound thriller where nothing is quite what it seems.

Badly battered by an apocalyptic storm, the crew of the Arctic Promise find themselves in increasingly dire circumstances as they sail blindly into unfamiliar waters and an ominously thickening fog. Without functioning navigation or communication equipment, they are lost and completely alone. One by one, the men fall prey to a mysterious illness. Deckhand Noah Cabot is the only person unaffected by the strange force plaguing the ship and her crew, which does little to ease their growing distrust of him.

Dismissing Noah’s warnings of worsening conditions, the captain of the ship presses on until the sea freezes into ice and they can go no farther. When the men are ordered overboard in an attempt to break the ship free by hand, the fog clears, revealing a faint shape in the distance that may or may not be their destination. Noah leads the last of the able-bodied crew on a journey across the ice and into an uncertain future where they must fight for their lives against the elements, the ghosts of the past and, ultimately, themselves.

Quick & Dirty: A slow moving first half and unmemorable characters ultimately sink this book that had a lot of promise.

Opening Sentence: The void churned and swelled, reaching up to pull them down into frigid darkness, clamoring to embrace them, every one.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

Noah is not thrilled to be on board the Arctic Promise, with his father-in-law as the ship’s captain, as well as multiple crew members who don’t want anything to do with Noah and make that plainly known. But he needs the money, so here he is. While en route to their destination, the ship is wrapped up in a devastating storm, after which no one is certain how far off course they’ve gone. The crew is also taken by a mysterious illness, all except Noah. Everyone is seeing shadows jumping at them, and no one has any idea how to fix it. With communications down, the only option is to head out on the ice and attempt to find help. That, however, leads to a vey unexpected and dangerous surprise. Will anyone make it out alive?

When I originally read the synopsis for this novel, I became extremely excited. For one thing, it mentions The Thing, one of my all-time favorite horror/sci-fi movies. For another, the concept of isolation from society bringing out man’s true nature brought to mind Lord of the Flies, one of my favorite books that I read way back in high school. Unfortunately, the book didn’t ultimately live up to the hype I had created in my mind.

The first half of the book is incredibly slow. While I did find myself intrigued by the illness and the mysterious shadows jumping out at the crew, it really felt as if nothing was happening. It also takes forever to find out why Noah’s father-in-law and other crew members hate him, which makes altercations prior to this knowledge very confusing for the reader.

Also, the characters aren’t that memorable, and there are a lot of them. When it came time for people to start dying, I often had a hard time remembering who they were, thus not really caring about their fate. Really, the only characters that feel slightly fleshed out are Noah and his father-in-law, Brewster.

One last negative aspect of the book: the ending felt very rushed, and I was left feeling incredibly unsatisfied. There was just all of this buildup, and we get a speedy explanation of what had been going on, and it still left me with questions.

On the other hand, the second half of the book moves incredibly quickly. I was turning pages as quickly as I could read them, eager to find out what would happen next. I often found myself holding my breath and even gasped a time or two. If only the first half of the book could have been as addicting!

All in all, this book held promise, but ultimately failed to deliver, leaving me feeling unsatisfied with how everything turned out. I did enjoy MacLeod’s writing style though, and the speedy and addicting second half of the book is enough to make me want to check out anything else he’s written.

Notable Scene:

Noah agreed it was time to get out of the cold. They’d have more than their share of it in the morning. He took one last look at the northern lights before turning his back to them. He spun on his heel and took a step toward warmth. A dim shape behind him darted forward, disappearing in a blur that blackened his vision and stole his breath like plunging into nighttime water. Noah jumped, and the small of his back slammed against the rail. His feet skidded and slipped on the slick deck. Trying to find purchase, he felt himself pitching backward, about to go over. His center of gravity shifted, climbing up his body and the distant surface below pulled at him like hands on his shoulders. He wished he could just drop to the deck, bend his knees and collapse, but his legs were scuttling with instinctive movement away from the thing that had rushed at him. Equally uncontrollable, his arms struck out, trying to grasp something, anything solid and unmoving. All they found was air.

He felt hands clamp down on his shoulders. He thrust his arms forward to grasp at his friends as they pulled him back from the brink. They held on, their pallid, slick faces distorted with panic.

Noah looked around, trying to see what it was that had almost killed him. But it was gone like a wisp of black smoke, dissipated and spread thin on the wind. All that remained were his friends and the darkness.

“What the fuck is happening, man?” Jack asked. Noah shook his head, trying to get his thoughts straight and his feet beneath him. He’d survived the storm, made it through the fire and the hit in the head. But he almost died jumping at shadows.

“I wish I knew.” All he could tell for certain was that he was cold and afraid. His summer had already turned to fall. And winter was howling right behind it, hungry and vicious.


FTC Advisory: Macmillan/Tor provided me with a copy of Stranded. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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