Review: Stranded by Bracken MacLeod
Published by Tor Books on October 4th 2016
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.
No book has ever made me more afraid of the cold and ice and than Stranded. Seriously, the setting for this book brings a new and frightening definition to the word freezing. It also presents an interesting reading experience via a twist that comes about halfway through the book. The first half is a gripping thriller. One that will make you feel the frigid harsh world of the arctic.
Weather and circumstances batter the crew of the Arctic Promise from the beginning. Their situation quickly escalates from concerning to holy hell, things can’t possibly get worse. But, well, things can often get worse, and they can definitely get more strange. That’s what this unfortunate crew discovers out in the frozen arctic.
I found it incredibly hard to put this book down during the first half of the book, the story and atmosphere seized my attention from the very first page and held it unrelentingly. Until the twist. I feel like the sudden and unexpected reveal we get around the halfway point really shifts the tone of the book from gripping thriller to total WTF is going on mode. The speculative aspects of the book come out in full force and you can no longer call this just a simple thriller. Once I got over the shock, I worked my way to trying to puzzle out how everything could resolve (because it wasn’t really a straight forward survival game any more).
I almost feel like it was the suddenness of the shift/reveal that pulled me out of the story a bit more than anything else. It took a little while for me to “adjust” and really start thinking about the path the story had taken. I found once I did this, it became more intriguing. Did I love it as much as I loved that first half? Maybe not, but I also feel like its nice to be completely blindsided by a book now and then, and that’s what this one did for me.
One constant through out the book was that I enjoyed getting Noah’s perspective. A deck hand that appears to be incredibly level headed and likable, but is challenged by working with a crew that seems to neither trust or like him, not to mention the incredibly tense/hostile dynamic caused by working under his evil father-in-law. As a reader, I was quite curious why this character I seemed to like could be so unpopular with his crew mates. And seeing as how this crew has more than there share of issues to work through, crew dynamics are incredibly important.
Overall, Stranded has amazing atmosphere and tension. It is also a book that gives the reader the unexpected, throwing a twist half way through that shifts the type of story it is. I may have been really unsure about the twist at first, but I did like how it challenged me to think of possible resolutions/endings. Overall, a good read.