Among the Living by Tim Lebbon
Titan Books (February 13, 2024)
304 pages; $16.99 paperback; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
When a novel marries the true terror inherent to humanity with the relevance of the world’s biggest issue (the death of the environment), it can resonate in a manner that most thriller and horror fans cannot escape. Imagine the The Thing crossed with The Terror — or any other high-quality isolated frozen story — and then transforming it into something even more frightening. That’s the gem that Tim Lebbon has created here with Among the Living.
For those familiar with Lebbon’s work, this should be no surprise, as this book includes elements of his stellar White and The Nature Of Balance. Yet the author takes a major step forward here in creating characters who are easy to sympathize with, even though they’re pretty imperfect. A group set on securing minerals from a cave that might have been frozen for millennial (the novel’s timeline is 2063, once global warming became much more than a warning). They unleash something that needs to feed — and spread — in one of the most terrifying opening scenes in memory.
Dean’s ex, Bethan, arrives with a team of environmentalists…and deep baggage. Once they realize the danger of what was released in the cave, the opposing groups forge an uneasy bond as they trek across the frozen landscape with a pair of goals: stop the contagion from reaching civilization, and survive. The tension is palpable here as Lebbon reaches down into current fears and brings them into reality. Even if the virus was just a virus, it would be terrifying enough, yet the author steps into another realm in creating an adversary that ranks near the top of anything in the past decade or so.
To give more details would spoil the surprise and deflate the bevy of conflicts within Among the Living, but it’s obvious that Lebbon’s experience in thrillers has elevated this novel into rare territory. He doesn’t waste a character, with each playing a pivotal role in the story, akin to a glacier sliding towards a town that realizes their fate is inevitable. Yet he still imbues a glimmer of hope for Dean, Bethan, and Goyo (a favorite character of this reviewer). Readers are bound to care, both for the cast struggling to survive and for the state of the planet as the science behind the novel is scarily accurate, before Lebbon amps up the horror into something otherworldly — or is it?
Highly recommended horror-thriller.