Ararat. Christopher Golden. 2017.
Golden’s new genre-bending novel combines elements of adventure, thriller, and horror with mixed success.
Fiancés Adam and Meryam are known world-wide for their sensational adventure documentaries. When their friend and mountain guide, Feyiz, alerts them to a potential archaeological scoop the two race to Turkey to be first on site at a remarkable discovery.
In a cave exposed by a recent avalanche high on Mount Ararat, the adventurers find the remains of a giant wooden ship filled with animal stalls and both human and animal remains: what can only be the lost ark of Noah. But there is something else amidst the ancient debris. In a coffin-like box sealed with bitumen they uncover a humanoid corpse sporting curved horns. A mutated human? Or… a demon?
Ben Walker, an undercover DARPA agent is helicoptered in along with UN observer Kim Seong, and Father Cornelius Hughes, an expert on ancient civilizations. Walker’s job is to see if the unknown creature poses any threat, and if so, how the US can utilize it.
Their arrival on the site adds to the already growing tensions among the assembled team of archaeologists, mountain guides and Turkish government monitors. Is it the remote location and close quarters bringing out the worst in people? Or could the creature in the box be exerting some strange influence? As project members start to disappear and unexplained violence ramps up, Walker has his hands full trying to find these answers.
Ararat is a solid read. The premise is great. All the right elements are here: an isolated and treacherous location, a rising storm, a collection of disparate characters holding secrets, a supernatural element…yet it could have been so much deeper. The story feels formulaic and the reader is left wishing it had been more fleshed out all the way around: the history, the ancient languages, the potential religious conflicts and ramifications. The characters have backstories, but not enough for one to care much about them. There is not enough mountain climbing to make it a great action climbing story, and not quite the level of deep, creeping fear for a stunning horror novel. Suspense builds unevenly, and even the demon ends up a bit of a disappointment, as it focuses more on wanton destruction than insidiousness.
Ararat succeeds as a quick-read adventure thriller, but had the potential to be much more.