Review: Where the Dead Wait by Allie Wilkes

cover of Where the Dead WaitWhere the Dead Wait by Allie Wilkes
Atria (December 2023)
400 pages; $20.49 hardcover; $11.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

What do you get when gothic horror goes to the arctic? Pure poetry with a fiendish dark heart.

For those who read the pitch-dark All The White Spaces from Allie Wilkes two years ago, this is a worthy follow-up. It’s not a true sequel, meaning readers can start with this novel and enjoy it, as Wilkes covers the backstory in a manner that isn’t overkill with infodumps. Instead, readers are treated to another great study in character building and setting.

William Day survived the horrors of his last mission that ended in cannibalism and some heartbreaking decisions for his crew. Discredited and disgraced, he’s a compass without a true north. When his former second-in-command goes missing, he finds a chance for redemption.

Jesse Stevens survived Day and that ill-fated journey into the deadly ice. When Day is tasked with a possible rescue mission to retrieve Stevens, hopefully alive with his ship intact, he wavers, yet realizes it’s the only move that may alleviate those who haunt him.

On this journey, Stevens’ wife joins him along with a psychic and reporter, all who have their own agendas and thoughts about Day leading them into the same icy death that he barely escaped.

What ensues is typical of a gothic horror novel, yet Wilkes elevates the stakes, almost bringing this into true thriller territory. Her description of the dual timeline — from the first trip that plagues Day to the current one — is eerily painted in contrasting tones. Both allude to the inevitability of death in a frozen wasteland, yet the rescue mission holds a sliver of hope and redemption.

She builds and breaks Day several times, displaying those who forever haunt him as he struggles to push past his former actions and grasp hold of what seemingly will give him a purpose, even if he doesn’t survive the journey. The other characters, in both timelines, help bolster Day’s crumbling soul, before chipping away at it again.

Wilkes has taken a concept such as The Terror by Dan Simmons and streamlined it, yet making the deadly world of ice her own, which will continue to garner her a wide new audience.

Recommended reading for fans of isolated, icy horror and gothic darkness, yet with a different slant.

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