One look can kill.
Riley has not seen a single human face in longer than she can reckon. No faces, no eyes. Not if you want to survive.
But when a new neighbor moves in down the road, Riley’s overwhelming need for human contact makes her throw caution to the wind. Somehow, in this world where other people can mean a gruesome, bloody death, Ellis makes her feel safe. As they grow closer, Riley’s grip on reality begins to slip and she can no longer fight her deepest desires.
All Riley wants to do is look.
A very big thank you to the kind folks over at Tor Nightfire for the ARC!
One of the most intriguing pillars of horror fiction that initially brought me to the genre is the idea that fear within the setting of isolation often leads to madness or insanity. This notion was first introduced to me in high school when our required reading included Edgar Allen Poe’s, “The Raven.” If you’re not familiar with that work, the eerie cadence of Poe’s words details a man living alone, haunted, as represented by the arrival of a raven at his door. In this same vein of isolated terror, Sunny Moraine examines the deeper facets of humanity in the face of a “pandemic” that results in the complete elimination of gazing upon another’s countenance.
Moraine details current society as bleak and utterly violent. Should one human look at another’s face, endless brutality ensues until both parties are deceased. Shards of mirrors scatter the floor, reflective surfaces have been covered, and photographs burned in the name of preserving what is left of humanity in this desolate landscape. There are lots of unanswered questions about this particular “virus,” if that’s even what it actually is. Isolation seems to be the only way to survive despite this working against every fundamental rule for a successful continuation of the human race. Your Shadow Half Remains follows one girl, Riley, as she attempts to continue living in the midst of so much uncertainty, violence, and utter chaos. While she has a system that works for her living in a remote house, things drastically change upon the arrival of a new neighbor, Ellis.
The focal point of this story revolves around the idea of trust on numerous levels such as the social contract we all engage with by existing among other fellow humans, trust in those we care for the most, and above all, the trust instilled in our own sense of perception. When any of these levels are attacked, our sense of vulnerability skyrockets as made apparent by Riley when she meets Ellis. While she yearns for human interaction (however limited it may be), she must make a clinical decision of whether or not to trust a total stranger. Ellis may present himself in a genuine manner, but given the state of the world, how can she know if what he says is true? If he will always announce his movements to prevent accidental gazes? This balance of trust and human connection escalates an already overwhelming sense of suspense and terror given that one wrong move equates to certain death.
Speaking of suspense, Moraine sprinkles weird happenings throughout our time with Riley that call into question, well, everything. While the book is written in third person, Riley’s perspective is the only one that’s shared. I found myself thinking of Donna Tartt’s character Richard from her acclaimed novel The Secret History who is known to be one of the most unreliable characters in all of fiction. With each chapter, our sense of distrust of Riley grows. She starts seeing things that may or may not be there, it seems like someone may have been in her home, and the nightmares start. Without much sanity to begin with in a world such as this, it feels as though Riley is spiraling into her own form of madness. This descent is the perfect vehicle for the horror that thrives in this book.
On this uncertain ground, objects and instances that are already terrifying only seem to expand in their unnerving capabilities. More than one scene had me genuinely spooked and fearful of what may be watching me despite my lack of watching them (what a concept, huh?). So much about Riley’s story plays on the human fears of our senses. With sight stripped, other senses take center stage, creating new opportunities for fear to thrive. There’s an overwhelming feeling of the true primal nature of humans when they are reduced to madness and isolation, a true look at how quickly a person can devolve. What’s more frightening than that?
Clocking in at just under 160 pages, Your Shadow Half Remains incites the most primitive of fears and calls into question the meaning of humanity in the face of solitude. The conclusion is one that left me staring at the wall for a while contemplating the most basic questions of what it means to be human. While there’s some room for interpretation, my understanding of this book is one that stresses the need for community and love and to not take these practices for granted. Being able to include so many ideas and concepts in such a short span is no small feat; with each word, Moraine constructs a world filled with dread and isolation only to reveal the true need for connection. Shining in the darkest of lights, Your Shadow Half Remains needs to be on your radar for horror fiction in 2024.
Your Shadow Half Remains by Sunny Moraine releases on February 6, 2024 by Tor Nightfire.