Estranged friends Dean and Bethan meet after five years apart when they are drawn to a network of caves on a remote Arctic island. Bethan and her friends are environmental activists, determined to protect the land. But Dean’s group’s exploitation of rare earth minerals deep in the caves unleashes an horrific contagion that has rested frozen and undisturbed for many millennia. Fleeing the terrors emerging from the caves, Dean and Bethan and their rival teams undertake a perilous journey on foot across an unpredictable and volatile landscape. The ex-friends must learn to work together again if they’re to survive… and more importantly, stop the horror from spreading to the wider world.
A propulsive horror thriller––fast-moving, frightening, and shockingly relevant—this adventure will grip you until the final terrifying page.
A big thank you to NetGalley and Titan Books for the eARC!
As temperatures across the globe continue to rise, so does the fear of the unknown as demonstrated in Tim Lebbon’s latest, Among the Living. Two separate groups of individuals set out to explore newly accessible caves thanks to the lack of frosty conditions due to global warming. It is on this exploration that these groups unearth something ancient, something set on controlling the living in the name of survival. The stakes become increasingly higher as what is discovered should have never seen the light of day.
This novel has been marketed and pushed as The Last of Us meets The Thing, and to those comps, I cannot help but agree. However, it feels as though this hits the nail a bit too squarely on the head based on my reading experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea posed by this mashup as these titles exist as pillars of horror for the modern audience. Lebbon delivers very clearly on that front, yet I could not help but wish there was just a bit more to this story.
The obvious conflicts at play with such a plot operate in ways that pit man against nature, something Lebbon does very well. He clearly explores this angle through the existence of the second group that arrives to the caves which is led by Bethan, a passionate individual set on advocating for our planet. This is in contrast to the first group, led by Dean, whose mission was to retrieve samples to sell to larger companies for excavation. Dean and Bethan, the respective pillars of each group, seem to exist to personify these separate philosophies. Dean believes in science and research and therefore views the accessibility of these caves as an opportunity to discover something new to make life better. Conversely, Bethan sees the harm in this and is determined to put an end to the pillaging. Yet, their mere presence at the caves seems to be enough to awaken whatever it is that slumbered for so long.
This is where we get to the fantastic body horror. Named “Dead Eye,” this fungus/virus/disease infects the living and spores when confronted with the serious possibility of death. Of course, one team member is infected launching the group into chaos and leaving them at odds with survival thanks to diminished supplies. From here, what is left of the team sets out to try to make it back to town; as you can imagine, things go terribly wrong along the way. There is a great level of detail that Lebbon devotes to explaining just how the sporing process appears, making for some rather gnarly scenes of gore. He also introduces new variations of the infected along the way creating a sense of great suspense. There’s no way to know what lies around the corner when there are no apparent rules to this game.
While the levels of suspense remain high and the action doesn’t seem to cease, Among the Living fell a bit flat for me. The characters of Dean and Bethan share a very dramatic past, one that is mentioned time and time again as it is the reason behind their current rift. However, certain aspects of their characterization and dialogue just didn’t stick for me, and I felt as though I should be more invested than I was. If you’re looking for an action-packed novel featuring some noteworthy instances of gore and body horror, this definitely fits that bill. Bethan and Dean’s characters had the potential to give this story an elevated layer of investment, one that I seemed to miss altogether. Regardless, Among the Living manages to elevate an already prominent feeling of dread surrounding the state of our environment by giving life to the unthinkable.
Among the Living releases on February 13, 2024, by Titan Books.