In Macaulay’s debut contemporary fantasy novel, a monster hunter pursues a yeti in the hostile winter landscape of the Himalayas and discovers the entrance to a hidden world.
Nick Ventner is a blue-collar hunter—a whiskey-soaked, seasoned pro in all things lurking in the shadows. Nick and his apprentice, James Schaefer, think they’re rescuing a village in the Himalayas from creatures called wargs, but it’s not wargs that have been picking off entire teams of climbers. It’s a yeti, and Nick’s nemesis, a rival hunter named Manchester, knows it too. Fueled by competition and the promise of seeing the enchanted region of Shangri-La (which the yeti guards), Nick and James seek to kill the creature and shut Shangri-La’s gates—and find out what riches lie beyond them. The novel uses a framing device similar to David Wong’s 2009 novel John Dies at the End, which works well; the present intrudes into the past-tense story to build suspense or establish Nick’s status as an unreliable narrator. He often embellishes, either intentionally or as a consequence of his alcohol intake; he’s a wonderfully human protagonist who makes mistakes and is ill-prepared for his treacherous journey. He doesn’t know everything, and doesn’t pretend to; instead, he relies heavily on Lopsang, a guide who’s far more than he seems. On occasion, the characterization of supporting characters seems inconsistent, and it sometimes feels as if certain details have been lost or misremembered. The first and last acts are the strongest, with their tight focus and legitimately harrowing situations that include glacial shifts and long-dead climbers. It’s also refreshing to see the mountain itself become an obstacle—one that’s just as deadly as the yeti. The middle, however, is weighed down with clichés, and sometimes feels like a greatest hits of the fantasy genre. Nick himself is a familiar character type, but he’s entertaining, with a biting sense of humor and a beating heart underneath all the bravado. The finale is a great setup for a continuation of a promising series.
An often engaging, if sometimes-clichéd, tale with an acerbic lead.