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While driving through the mountains of West Virginia during a late-night snowstorm, a recently divorced woman experiences bizarre electrical problems, leaving her with little choice but to place her trust with a charismatic truck driver. But when an unexplainable creature with haunting red eyes gets between them, she is forced to make one of the toughest decisions of her life. Will she abandon the stranger who kept her safe—or will she climb down below, where reality has shapeshifted into a living nightmare?
Laurel Hightower’s last novella, Crossroads, created a huge stir in the horror community. It follows the story of Chris and her grief over her dead son. Almost everyone who read it loved that Hightower is able to make us feel so much in such a short novella. Her follow up, Below, is coming with some big reader expectations, and Hightower definitely proves that she is up to the challenge.
Below starts with Addy on her way to meet some friends for a girls weekend after a fresh divorce to Brian. There is an impending snowstorm coming, and after she nearly hits a disabled van in the middle of the road, she pulls off to a truck stop to gather her thoughts. She meets a tucker named Mabs, who wants to help her through the mountains and the storm. The journey after they leave the truck stop does not go well. In the end, Addy has to confront her own demons as well as those that are trying to kill her.
There are so many things that Laurel Hightower does well in her writing. She excels at storytelling, but the development of her main characters is unprecedented. Addy is someone who has an inner dialogue that leads her to second guessing her every move. The three main characters in this novella are Addy, Mags, and Brian, her ex-husband who’s voice is constantly in her head as she makes decisions that he would not have approved of. She has been so beaten down by this relationship and this person, yet it is still so raw to her emotions, that when her state of fear heightens, she has to choose whether to continue to listen to those ghost in her head telling her who she is and what she should do or whether to break herself from these chains.
Hightower does such a great job creating Addy and her life, but this does not distract from the fact that this a novella of pure terror. As soon as she leaves the truck stop and continues on her journey, there is not a single moment that is not filled with tension, whether it be due to the weather conditions, what lives in the mountains, or what lives in the caves below. She spends much more of this novella on the action and horror than she did in Crossroads, which was more of a psychological horror about grief and loss. Below is awesome because even though it is more of a creature feature, the character development does not stop. Addy is still learning, still getting stronger as the worlds is turning into a nightmare around her. Laurel Hightower can write good creatures too.
There is not a single reason why any horror lover should pass on Below or any other Laurel Hightower book. The level of horror that she produces is one that should make other horror writers think they need to work harder and write better.
I received this as an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.