When Taryn promised to scatter her wife’s ashes at an alpine lake in the Sawtooth Mountains, she expected an easy out-and-back hike. What she gets is anything but.
It starts when she spots a human bone in the lake. Then there’s a howling in the woods. But when Taryn sees something unexplainable moving across the river, she knows she’s in danger. This thing is stalking her. Watching and waiting.
A clumsy fall leaves Taryn injured and easy prey. Now she’s alone. Injured. Out of time.
Grief is like a virus. Too much of it can kill or cripple those who suffer it. But others who feel grief can use it to inoculate themselves against further maladies. In “Sawtooth,” Steph Nelson presents us with the tale of Taryn, grieving her lost wife Gemma. Out in the Sawtooth Mountains, Taryn intends to scatter her beloved wife’s ashes.
As ever, it’s not so simple. With dark legends surrounding the mountain, Taryn is about to learn that the worst of them is no mere legend. Sawtooth, the creature that haunts the mountains, is very real. And Taryn is trapped in the mountains with a monstrous beast, forced to reconcile with her grief if she is to survive.
Nelson pulls out all the stops. Weighing in at a lean length, barely over a hundred pages, she wastes no words or time to get into the utter meat of “Sawtooth.” Taryn is one of the most relatable protagonists anyone can ask for in such a creature-feature: resourceful, flawed, grieving, but relatable and strong, investing the reader fully in her fight for survival.
“The Vein,” Nelson’s first novel, showed her skill with characters and setting. “Sawtooth” showcases Nelson painting a vivid picture of nearly deserted mountains, with the isolation almost a character unto itself.
But every monster story needs to showcase its beast. Sawtooth is terrifying, ferocious, unrelenting, but Nelson employs clever plot twists that demonstrate the creature is far more than it seems and linked inextricably to Taryn’s grief.
With a fight for survival, grief, tragedy, and unrelenting terror, “Sawtooth” will grind its way to the readers’ hearts.