When a newly engaged couple climbs Mount Ararat in Turkey, an avalanche forces them to seek shelter inside a massive cave uncovered by the snow fall. The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah’s Ark. But when a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark for the first time, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses…and when they break it open, they find that the cadaver within is an ugly, misshapen thing…and it has horns. A massive blizzard blows in, trapping them in that cave thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain…but they are not alone.
*I received a free copy of this book from Headline through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review This is no way influenced my opinion of the book.*
Firstly, ignore that blurb above as it is not accurate. The newly engaged couple are not even in Turkey when the earthquake and avalanche occur, they are in London, so they don't seek shelter there from a storm! The discovery of the cavern is what brings them to Turkey to climb the mountain and lay claim if the ark is there.
An earthquake followed by an avalanche has Turkish guide Feyiz fleeing with his group down Mount Ararat, praying for the safety of his family in a nearby village. What is left on the side of the mountain is a cavern that should not be there, and a possible link to Noah's Ark being there. Now two rival teams race to get to the cavern to gain rights to the discovery and begin a full dig. But some things are best left undiscovered...
The main focus of the book to begin with are adventurers Meryam and Adam who film themselves on various climbs, and write books about their adventures. Their friend Feyiz alerts them to the opportunity and with fellow reluctant guide Hakan they set off for the cavern, determined to get there at all costs. The author does well to convey that sense of desperation to win, the very nature of competitive climbing at its worst as both teams risk their health and safety to win. They ignore the need to rest or get used to the altitude and drag themselves up the mountain. It was accurate and pretty absorbing as they battled up to the cavern.
The drama then switches to the ongoing excavation of the ark within the cavern, where the rival teams are now working with various experts in different fields under the watchful eyes of Turkish and UN representatives. The last team to arrive are led by Ben Walker, claiming to be a science researcher but really snooping for the US defence department for anything to turn into a weapon, along with Catholic Priest Father Hughes and the UN's Kim Seong. Those who work on the ark come into constant conflict over their religions and beliefs as work progresses slowly, with a major storm coming in. It does not help when a feeling of evil and malice seems to hang over the place, which many connect to the corpse of what looks like a demon.
It is clear that there is a toxic atmosphere at the dig site but how much is down to cultural and religious differences or the demon is unclear to start with. There is distrust between the muslim and christian workers with particular distrust of the Father as a religious leader. There is sexual distrust as Adam becomes suspicious that Meryam might be having an affair as she becomes more distant from him and obsessed by the project. There is cultural distrust of the american and Walker objects to having the UN watching over him. There is professional distrust between the experts who all believe that they are right and conclusions and theories of their colleagues are wrong. The dig team do not like having Turkish officials interfering in every small decision and Hakam will not take orders from a woman, especially who has turned her back on her muslim faith. So the seeds of discord are already there, coming into play in subtle ways as the demon influences them.
And then people begin to disappear. Are they quitting the project or are they being killed? It increases tension with outbreaks of violence, distrust and madness from various team members and conflicts grow to a stage where nobody is doubting that things are going badly wrong. As things get out of control, the people left no longer know who to trust and realise what they are up against. They must put aside their differences and work as a united team if any of them are going to survive. The weather outside is brutal but should they take their chances and try to escape the ark with help from the guides or do they sit out the storm and hope that there is a way to stop the demon? Either choice could be the death of them all.
I enjoyed watching the tensions of the group building and seeing how the individuals dealt with the circumstances. It wasn't difficult for the demon to prey on the tensions that were already there and I felt that the first half of the book was really setting the scene and ramping up the tension. You get to know a lot of the characters and their motivations and fears during the first part so that the people are not just nameless victims, which I liked. It was well written in that although there is not much in the way of action, you still wanted to read on and see how it was going to play out. When we got into the demon deciding to up the ante, that is where this book really departed from tense thriller to exciting horror, and I loved that change. It became faster paced and the tension was through the roof.
I liked the 'is this really Noah's ark' story as that was interesting from a historical viewpoint but at the same time the book doesn't get heavy on religious themes so if religion isn't your thing it shouldn't really affect you for reading this. The book deals more with the actual tension around the different views these people have instead of dealing too heavily with the views themselves.
I can certainly see this being made into a film in the future as it has the elements that would work well on screen with the remote location, historical interest, character tension and horror element with the demon. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy books about expeditions, tense thrillers and horror.
Read January 2017.