Advance reading copy blurbs from authors and publications can often be taken with a grain of salt. However, when literary genre hotshots such as Paul Tremblay (A Head Full of Ghosts) and Josh Malerman (Bird Box) fall over themselves gushing about a book, I take notice. The book in question this time around is Christopher Golden’s Ararat, a novel that I can best describe in cinematic comparisons as The Thing with solid dashes of The Exorcist, Alive, and Horror Express. (Side note: I’ve heard other advance readers comparing Ararat to Dan Simmon’s The Terror, so if you love that book, it seems as if you’ll love this one, too.)
I recently read Golden’s Dead Ringers, a bizarre tale of dopplegangers hunting down their twins in Boston, and loved it. I’m glad to say that Golden hits another chilling novel out of the park with Ararat.
The action starts immediately with an earthquake and its resulting avalanche on Mount Ararat, Turkey. This ends in the destruction of part of the village below — as well as in many lives lost. We learn that several of the departed belong to the clans that come from generations of guides who take travelers up and down the mountain. While exploring the aftermath of the destruction, the Turkish guides discover a large cave high up on the mountain — one that shouldn’t exist.
It’s all very hush-hush — the cave ends up being a large wooden ship — some speculate that it’s the mythical Noah’s Ark. Especially since there are several decks and stalls found in the ancient vessel that could easily accommodate animals. Those in the know are astounded, and the debate on who gets dibs to explore begins.
Adam and Meryam are an engaged Jewish-Muslim couple who specialize in books and documentaries on international adventures and interesting archaeological finds. They’ve worked out a deal with the Turkish government to film. Their friend Feyiz, one of the Turkish guides, has given them the heads up on the odd new discovery on the mountain, and the couple races to beat other scholars and explorers to be the first to report on the news.
Among the groups racing to the top of Ararat are “Arkologists,” religious academics who’ve studied the myth of Noah’s Ark in depth. There are archaeologists from the United Kingdom, a strong hero-type character named Walker from the United States and the National Science Foundation, and a neutral South Korean envoy from the United Nations sent to observe and keep everyone in line (at least where internationals interests come in).
This is one of the things that makes Ararat unique — a disparate group of people from all over the world, from several cultures and religious beliefs (or none at all) — converge to investigate the newly discovered phenomenon. Their backgrounds cause them to clash with one another, some more than others — especially when the group discovers a sarcophagus encased with a hard, black resin substance. There are odd symbols and words written in a language that is related to some of the oldest languages in the world; the scholars among the group attempt to decipher the meaning but tempers run hot and arguments occur.
Is it a warning? A spell? What’s buried inside that ancient box? Read the book, and you’ll find out — I’m not going to spoil it for you. I will say that more writings are uncovered, and what they find inside that ancient sarcophagus shakes everyone to their very cores. More so, horrible feelings of dread, anger, and despair fill the explorers one by one, sometimes with terrifying consequences. People begin to disappear in the middle of the night. They begin to hear and see things. And just what is that orange light in their eyes?
Much like John Carpenter’s The Thing, people start becoming paranoid and doubting each other. Expect physical altercations, betrayals, and loss of life, sanity, and more. Loss is pretty much the name of the game in Ararat; an uplifting novel it is not. But if you crave bleak, unforgettable stories, this one’s for you. The book isn’t a safe space for anyone; there are quite real consequences for the characters. So much so, you start to wonder if anyone will make it off the mountain alive — or in one piece.
Golden’s characters are fully formed. You might believe you were reading an account of something that really happened if the possibility of discovering Noah’s Ark weren't so farfetched. Another element of the story I really appreciated was that even though everyone had different beliefs, no character felt truly judged. There are some very funny moments when people argue about religion or background, and it adds real comic relief to the horror that unfolds.
And that horror is nearly unrelenting. Ararat offers supreme creepiness within a suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere. Really bad things go down in the ship-cave as a maelstrom of a blizzard traps the group until they can safely leave. But time ticks on, and the body count rises. Fans of similarly claustrophobic tales and settings such as Alien and The Descent will love Ararat.
Ararat hits the streets on April 19th, and the buzz is growing on GoodReads. Intrigued? You can pre-order Golden’s latest page-turning tale from your local bookstore or via Amazon here.