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{Book Review} Neverest by T.L. Bodine

The snowy landscape breeds horror. There’s just something about the weather and its environment that creates the perfect sensation of isolation, death, and scarcity. Humanity feels small in the force of the bitter cold. This makes a wintry setting the perfect place to set up a horror story. So then, what better place to set your horror novel than the freezing peak of Earth’s tallest mountain? Naturally, Neverest by T.L. Bodine agrees with the sentiment

After mountaineer Sean Miller disappears during a climb on Everest, his wife, Carrie Miller, becomes obsessed with Mt. Everest. She decides her best move is to climb Everest’s peak to find her dead husband’s body. Guided by Tom, her husband’s best friend, Carrie gets her wish granted. However, Everest is more than just a mountain… And Carrie’s about to find out why.

At first glance, the premise of Neverest encapsulates the ideas surrounding wintry horror perfectly. What more terrifying place to encounter the supernatural than while climbing a mountain? Where the atmosphere is so thin, your body cannibalizes itself, and life refuses to grow. In many respects, Everest’s peak is the perfect liminal space, solidly set between reality and the hereafter. It’s a great idea for a horror novel. But does T.L. Bodine deliver?

Yes and no. In many respects, Bodine offers a very ambitious novel. It’s clear she has put dedicated research into this novel. The actual physical act of mountaineering feels real in this book. Carrie, a lawyer living in Chicago, goes through some backbreaking labor to get around this mountain. If there’s one emotion I feel after finishing the novel, it’s exhaustion. Considering that the bulk of the book takes place during Carrie’s climb, Bodine fills her passages with descriptions of Carrie’s physical and mental burdens. You almost don’t need a supernatural twist for Neverest to work. Indeed, climbing a mountain feels plenty terrifying enough.

Furthermore, Bodine’s loving prose of the landscape reveals just how much research went into this story. Not once did I have trouble imagining Carrie’s surroundings or the sensation of an otherworldly mountain. Throughout the book, all of Everest’s colors, smells, and sights became a living reality in my head. Now that’s the work of a great craftsman, and Bodine deserves the credit for it.

However, this book does have one major weakness: underdevelopment. In some regards, this weakness comes from a place of love. Bodine’s investment in her plot and setting pours out of every passage. So many chapters are dedicated to Everest’s native folklore, its histories, and its significance. The novel’s events focus not only on Carrie’s troubled climb but in flashbacks to Carrie’s troubled marriage with Sean and his diary entries during his own doomed trip.

In theory, these writing decisions work to help the reader truly understand Carrie’s character and mentality. For the most part, this works. Carrie definitely stands out as Neverest‘s most developed character. We understand exactly why she makes her poor decisions, why her guilt over Sean’s death is so extreme, and why she refuses to turn back. Unfortunately, this focus can be a detriment to other crucial aspects of the plot.

For example, the hints of a supernatural presence in the plot feel quite minuscule. You would think that a book advertised as a supernatural thriller we’d have more foreshadowing of that supernatural threat. If anything, Carrie’s biggest threats for most of the book consist of her own physical limitations and traumas. By itself, that is not a bad thing. It certainly makes for an interesting character arc for our protagonist. However, when the book features a climax heavily dependent on the supernatural angle, I do expect there to be more development in that aspect of the worldbuilding.

Additionally, Carrie’s focus in the book sometimes gives other characters little time to shine. Tom is the best example of this underdevelopment. As Sean’s friend and Carrie’s guide, he appears to be the best possible decision for a secondary character, maybe even a deuteragonist. In most of the story proper, however, Tom mostly works as a plot device, a guarantee that Carrie will survive her trip and an additional source of conflict for Carrie and Sean’s relationship. He never feels like a real person with his own wants or desires. It is a shame because Neverest loves telling us how important he is to Carrie and Sean’s life. But how can the audience feel that importance when he doesn’t get any development?

All in all, I’m glad I read Neverest. It’s a setting I rarely encounter in my personal reading, and its ideas are fascinating and ambitious. It certainly makes me want to discover some more wintery settings in my horror books. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that climb to the summit worthwhile.