Four ambitious climbers hike into the Kentucky wilderness. Seven months later, three mangled bodies are discovered. Were their deaths simple accidents or the result of something more sinister?
This nail-biting, bone-chilling survival horror novel is inspired by the infamous Dyatlov Pass incident, and is perfect for fans of Alma Katsu and Showtime’s Yellowjackets.
This is going to be Dylan’s big break. Her friend Clay, a geology student, 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, she 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 body 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. Followers of her Instagram account report seeing disturbing livestreams, and some even claim to have caught glimpses of her vanishing into the thick woods, but 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? Is Dylan still alive, and does she hold the answers?
This page-turning debut will have you racing towards the inevitable conclusion.
A big, big thank you to the kind folks over at Quirk Books and NetGalley for the ARC!
What an adrenaline rush. Jenny Kiefer’s This Wretched Valley is a treacherous journey that launches at light speed and doesn’t slow down. A take on the Dyatlov Pass incident, we follow four adults and their dog, Slade, into the Kentucky wilderness in the name of scientific research and exploration based on data that reflects an unknown rocky structure. What they don’t expect to find is the confounding valley in which this rockface lies. At every twist and turn, strange things occur, and conditions become bleak rather quickly. What authorities find makes little to no sense, and the explanation behind this grisly discovery is not something anyone can predict.
I want to start by saying that never have I had such a visceral physical reaction while reading a book. A large part of this story centers around the discovery of this mysterious cliff face that could be established as a new climbing area. Dylan, one of the women on this excursion, is set on climbing this untraversed cliff and marking her own routes for future climbers. Multiple scenes depict her struggles while climbing and the dire circumstances that would occur should she fall. My hands were sweating so much, I had to put the book down multiple times before continuing on. How I wish I would have thought to check my heart rate during these scenes to provide a numerical value for the levels of suspense and danger established in Kiefer’s writing.
These scenes set the tempo and pace of this story quite high from the outset in conjunction with what we can infer from Slade’s behavior. Normally a mostly docile canine who frequently makes these trips with his owners, he begins to bark, whine, and refuse to enter certain parts of the woods. This of course triggered extreme alarm bells in my mind; the dog almost always knows best. Slade’s antics easily created an air of uncertainty and downright dread from the first few pages, adding to the extreme feel of Dylan’s climbing excursions. From there, all hell seemingly breaks loose as evil scenes unfold before the hikers’ very eyes.
As things progress and instances of the uncanny increase in frequency and intensity, the sense of danger progresses as well. Each member of the party experiences their own misfortunes or witnesses different forms of strange happenings until all things converge in a bloodbath of intense violence. Kiefer does an excellent job of writing the wilderness as a character of its own, an entity that has stood the test of time and holds little regard for those who trespass its boundaries. Through short scenes of flashbacks, we learn of this land’s sordid past marked with bloodshed, death, and insanity. I would even argue that this turns into a possession story of sorts, especially for Dylan who cannot stop thinking about climbing that rock even in the direst of circumstances.
These predatory qualities of the wilderness are not only frightening but downright unhinged at times. I expected a level of gore and violence since this is a horror novel set in the wilderness, but Kiefer far exceeded my expectations concerning maniacal, ghastly terror. The closest any story has come to this level of environmental violence (in my experience) is Scott Smith’s The Ruins, one of the best horror books of the 2000s. What sets This Wretched Valley apart from other tales of its kind is the intelligence of those on this expedition. Countless horror stories focus on things going wrong in the wilderness through the shortcomings or ill decisions of those who become victims. While some make poor choices in This Wretched Valley, the party of folks on this exploration make rather smart choices, yet still fall prey to the evils at play. If anything, this only highlights how much the valley doesn’t give a damn in its relentless pursuit to feed off its occupiers. A certain level of desperation is established through this air of intelligence instilled with each character which left me wondering just how this was all going to end. Of course, we know this is a tragic ending from the outset, but Kiefer’s storytelling abilities outlining the descent into bloody madness are not something that can be predicted.
Built on an atmosphere of unease, the uncanny, and depraved horrors, This Wretched Valley by Jenny Kiefer is a whirlwind of a novel. Her creation of such a dangerous atmosphere, a proverbial Venus fly trap carefully awaiting the landing of its next victim, sets a clear tone from page one, something that only escalates with each set of events that unfold. Absolutely no one’s safety is ensured in such a place as this, a place so wretched.