With an ancient demon invisibly possessing its victims and sowing the seeds of animosity between characters and an isolated and snowbound setting, comparisons to Carpenter’s classic, The Thing, abound in Christopher Golden’s Ararat. Are they justified? Is that even a bad thing? Read on to find out…
The first thing any review of this book needs to talk about has to be some of those points of commonality with The Thing. For large parts of this novel, I was acutely aware of those similarities. It may be because that’s one of my favourite films, but to pretend those parallels don’t exist would be naïve and to do a disservice to the review. To be clear, I liked this book, and once you come to terms with the fact that telling a story which primarily takes place in a snowbound archaeological site is going to have inherent superficial points in common with a well-known film like The Thing, it’s easy to get caught up in what amounts to a gripping narrative.
Right from the outset, Golden sets up conflict between his two primary protagonists, Meryam Karga and Adam Holzer. I won’t go into detail about what that tension is, but when Meryam convinces Adam that RIGHT NOW is the perfect time for an expedition to Ararat and the famed site of Noah’s Ark, the stage is set for a race to the top of the mountain. Their goal pits them in direct conflict with another group of mountaineering archaeologists who’ve come to the same conclusion as Karga and the race is on. It’s perhaps somewhat jarring that this other group later become colleagues on the dig with them, but the ensuing race is an early preview of the conflicts Golden plans to escalate in later acts.
Once they reach their goal, things happen quickly. One of the strongest points this novel has in its favour is its relentless pace. This is a page-turner your Dad would love to read on the back patio with a beer in his hand. But let’s forget about that and get off the patio and back on the mountain where Golden uses a range of techniques to develop tensions amongst his cast. On top of Karga and Holzer’s pre-existing issues threatening to explode, you’ve got love triangles between key players, the possibility of violence from guards sent by the Turkish government, and most prominently, the potential for religious conflict between Islamic, Christian and Jewish characters. They are, after all, excavating what might be Noah’s Ark, and they don’t necessarily see eye to eye on its meaning,
Once an ancient sarcophagus, hastily investigated, reveals a demonic corpse and unseals it from a centuries old prison, things really get interesting. The horned and mummified thing immediately sets tongues wagging amongst the minor characters. Enter Ben Walker, an agent of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the guise of a UN representative. Walker is a classic tough guy hero with experience fighting monsters and a heart of gold. He’s the guy any movie adaptation would cast as an action hero, and you shouldn’t be surprised if he reappears in future works from Christopher Golden.
With his characters all present, the author traps them with a raging storm that makes escape impossible, throws in some ominous foreshadowing (he goes to great pains to let us know just one spark would be enough to ignite the whole site), and starts killing off minor characters in mysterious circumstances. From there, he whips those fore-mentioned tensions between characters into a lovely mix of suspicion, violence, and fear, setting the stage for a thrilling – and grisly – final act that sees the characters racing back down the mountain while trying to avoid a gruesome death at the hands of a possessed companion.
In summary, this novel is not without flaws, and we are required to take some leaps of faith with Golden and forgive him for glossing over some details, but the end result is a thoroughly entertaining novel that I burned through in no time. If you want a gripping horror with biblical overtones and plenty of action, this is well worth picking up.
Three and a half ice-picks out of five.