Review: Briardark - S.A. Harian
Genre: Horror Published: Compass and Fern, January 2023 My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
What would happen if the creators of Netflix’s Dark teamed up with Blake Crouch, and wrote a sci-fi horror-mystery set in Area X from Annihilation…? First, I’d throw my money at them unquestioningly and second, you’d get something quite similar to what S.A. Harian created with Briardark.
7 years ago a group of 5 young hikers, among them a famous Youtube streamer of survival horror-games, goes missing without a trace in the remote and desolate wilderness of the Deadswitch-woods. None of them are ever heard from again. History now threatens to repeat itself when a group of environmental scientist on a field expedition encounter a series of inexplicable phenomena in the area. Landmarks disappear without a trace, satellite phones fail and strange, everchanging foliage hides dark shadows in the periphery. Told through alternating perspectives, between the missing researchers and the man looking into their disappearance via recovered audio- and video-logs, Briardark takes us on a disorienting journey through time and place, into the dark woods…
What I liked:
Briardark had me hooked from page one with its tight plot, compelling mysteries and unsettling twists. With almost every chapter ending on a cliff-hanger or suspenseful reveal, I was reading compulsively past my bed-time, unable to put the book down. Where the synopsis may seem “familiar”, it subverts expectations, adds elements and leaves you second-guessing all the way until the end. Throughout the novel you might feel disoriented at times, but it always feels intentional, rather than being the result of poor plotting. Rather, you feel what the characters feel as they uncover piece by little piece of the puzzle that is the Deadswitch-wilderness. Worldbuilding, environmental descriptions and atmosphere are spot-on. I’ve started this review by comparing the atmosphere and setting to Area X, which is a huge compliment coming from me, as Annihilation is my uncontested favourite horror-novel.
What I didn’t like:
The engagement I felt to the plot and mystery unfortunately didn’t extend to the characters. Despite the authors efforts I never felt attached or connected to them beyond their “role” in moving the plot. This may be in part due to the many different POV’s, that all read quite similar, and don’t differ in narrative tone of voice from one character to the next. For a plot-/mystery-driven story, this works fine, but for me as a character-driven reader, I would’ve liked to get to know our cast a little more in depth. I do really appreciate a cast of smart characters, who actually act smart on page, at the center of a survival horror novel. It’s surprisingly rare, but brings a breath of fresh air to the genre.
When I first received my ARC, I wasn’t aware that this would be the start of a new series. As such, I wasn’t quite able to adjust my expectations towards the ending. Briardark leaves many questions and mysteries open, and although it succeeded in hooking me for the sequel, I would’ve like to have gotten a <i>little bit more</i> resolution at the end. I’m hoping the author will nail the ending in the sequel, and not repeat the pitfalls of her YA debut.
Overall, despite the slightly unsatisfying ending, I still recommend Briardark for fans of sci-fi-horror or speculative mysteries. I myself will be eagerly awaiting the sequel.
Many thanks to Compass and Fern for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.