A Baltimore teenager may be the only one who can stop a dark, mysterious entity from taking over the world in this supernatural thriller debut.
Hunter Peak is looking forward to his upcoming 18th birthday so he can be on his own and escape the crushing weight of his dominating mother. He should have enough money to move out of his home, as he has been receiving steady pay from a college professor for historical-data research. But lately, Hunter has been sensing something, a darkness that he sometimes feels is watching or following him. He chalks it up to paranoia, but there may be more to it. A distraught professor Jameson tells Hunter that there has been a breakthrough with the academic’s experiments, with ties to the research the teen has been doing. Jameson takes responsibility for what the media have dubbed “the occurrences,” a string of inexplicable disappearances around the world. He further cryptically states that, because of Hunter’s research, an unspecified “they” have targeted the teen. It’s clear later that someone wants Jameson’s files on Hunter, a series of thumb drives. As the occurrences continue, the darkness becomes somewhat discernible shadow creatures that attack seemingly random people. Largely concealed and unknown villains may be after Hunter because they believe he’ll unravel their ultimate goal. But uncovering answers won’t be simple, especially since the media are certain they have identified the culprit behind the shadow attacks: presumed terrorist Hunter, allegedly using nerve gas to cause hallucinations and mass hysteria.
Grant’s novel seamlessly shifts between action scenes and horror. Hunter, for example, is initially the hunted, dodging things that he often can’t see and on the run as a branded terrorist. The story covers a wide range of characters, most of whom have a connection to Hunter, like reporter Charity Chandlis, who’s tracking the recent events. These also include Hunter’s allies: his childhood pal Jessica Mason; schoolmate Shadon; and Mark, a friend to the professor. A nicely understated love triangle even adds another dynamic to the protagonist, as Shadon and Jessica may have a mutual fondness for Hunter. Meanwhile, the author keeps the baddies (including “they”) generally obscure, both in details and origin. This works to great effect with the shadow monsters: Speculation that they are demons enhances the idea of Hunter’s questioning God’s existence, in contrast to his churchgoing mother. But descriptions of the evil creatures are primarily vague. Indeed, the monsters’ shapes vary, but traits are disappointingly scarce for most appearances (at one point, they’re called “mini black blobs”). Not surprisingly, creatures with more particulars prove indelible: “Using its writhing appendages as leverage to manipulate its mass, grabbing onto rails, posts and beams to push and pull itself while cruelly tripping and toying with its prey.” Regardless, the beasts are unquestionably menacing, and while the final act clarifies most of what was happening (for example, the occurrences), questions remain and the creatures are no less horrific.
Though its monsters are a bit too hazy, this tale deftly merges trepidation with exhilaration.