Take only pictures. Leave only bones.
This trip is going to be Dylan’s big break. Her geologist friend Clay has discovered an untouched cliff face in the Kentucky wilderness, and she is going to be the first person to climb it. Together with Clay, his research assistant Sylvia, and Dylan’s boyfriend Luke, Dylan is going to document her achievement on Instagram and finally cement her place as the next rising star in rock climbing.
Seven months later, three bodies are discovered in the trees just off the highway. All are in various states of decay: one a stark, white skeleton; the second emptied of its organs; and the third a mutilated corpse with the tongue, eyes, ears, and fingers removed.
But Dylan is still missing—and no trace of her, dead or alive, has been discovered.
Were the climbers murdered? Did they succumb to cannibalism? Or are their impossible bodies the work of an even more sinister force?
This dread-inducing debut builds to a bloodcurdling climax, and will leave you shocked by the final twist.
This Wretched Valley starts with one of the creepiest prologues I’ve read in a while before pressing rewind and showing us how it all began. We are quickly introduced to our leads, Dylan, Clay, Sylvia, Luke and Luke’s dog, Slade (the dog lives).
Jenny Kiefer does an excellent job of establishing who these characters are quickly and efficiently. Personalities and relationships are very clear, allowing us to ease into the story.
The slow burn of the first half is very effective, building tension in the narrative as well as between the characters. It’s pretty amazing that even though we know the aftermath, Kiefer still manages to keep the reader invested and on the edge of their seat while we make our way towards the inevitable conclusion.
The mystery of what is happening in the titular valley is endlessly intriguing and deftly handled, giving us just enough but never too much. Something is off about this wretched valley from the get go but the characters never seem like idiots or that they’re being ignorant because, plot. The reactions to the circumstances they find themselves in are believable and when the characters are making decisions that have you screaming, “What the fuck are you doing!?”, you also can’t help but understand why because of the groundwork Kiefer has laid for these characters.
The violence and gore is detailed and grotesque, which was perfectly fine for this reader. Kiefer holds almost nothing back and it really immerses you in the character’s experiences. The kills and injuries are all unique and creative, more than a few will make you squirm.
Aside from the gore, there is some excellent psychological horror going on as well. The sense of being trapped and lost in the woods permeates every page of this novel. The things they see and hear at night will give you goosebumps and having you looking over your shoulder to make sure no one is there.
With richly drawn characters, an unsettling environment and some truly horrific gore, Kiefer has established herself as a rising star in horror and an author to watch. Combining a creeping sense of dread, psychological horror and a fair amount of gore, The Wretched Valley reads like a combination of The Blair Witch Project and The Ruins and I’m here for it.