Book Review: Stranded by Bracken MacLeod

“Readers will find themselves reeled in by the narrative, letting MacLeod’s hook sink in all the way as he drags them through the icy waters to his own vision of Hell.”


The Arctic Promise has definitely seen better days. No bearings. No communications. Frigid cold and supplies are running low. The crew is ill and growing worse by the second. As the mysterious sickness spreads, Noah Cabot is the only one unaffected. They made it through a severe storm only to find themselves plunged in an ominous fog. They are dead in the water. As the ice thickens, the captain continues to push on, burning up the engines, ignoring Noah’s warnings. There’s bad blood here, the worst, and soon there’s no one left for Noah to trust. The crew of the Arctic Promise are alone and dying, lost in a frozen hell.

Bracken MacLeod is no stranger to the horror fiction genre. Author of Mountain Home, White Knight, and The Texas Chainsaw Breakfast Club or I Don’t Like Mondays, his latest novel, Stranded, arriving October 4th from Tor Books, promises to make him a household name. Not exactly horror, Stranded straddles the line between thriller and supernatural. MacLeod sets the stage immediately by dropping us directly into the storm. As we follow lowly deckhand Noah Cabot around the Arctic Promise, he skillfully fills in the backstory while continuously moving the action forward. What follows is a well-written thrill-ride that isn’t afraid to tackle existential matters with heart, yet never beats you over the head with the message. Almost immediately we feel this sense of dread, intensified as the crew slowly realizes how dire the situation is. Enshrouded in deep fog, the crew is lethargic, quickly turning ill. Weak, coughing up blood, some of the crew are able to make their way around the stalled ship, while others are too sick to get out of bed. With Noah only suffering from a headache and the effects of smoke inhalation, he finds himself alone. Unfortunately, he’s on shaky footing from the word go, as his father-in-law, Captain William Brewster, has it in for Noah in the worst way possible. Noah’s wife, Abby, died from cancer, and the two men have been bitter to each other ever since. And then there’s the accident. Though it wasn’t Noah’s fault, the accident left his coworker Connor MacAllister dead, and Brewster doesn’t make it secret he wishes it would have been Noah who died instead of Connor.

One of the strongest points of the novel is how MacLeod handles informing his readers about the setting. There’s no info dump here at all as he expertly ties the inner workings of the Arctic Promise and crew politics to the main character in a way that’s easy on the eyes and completely accessible for any reader. The dialogue is spot-on and pitch perfect, moving the story forward at a steady pace. He also bridges in the backstory in a way that’s organic and integral to the plot. From the very beginning, we feel something isn’t right aboard the ship, and as the circumstances go from worse to dire, that feeling only intensifies. Strange things are afoot as the crew begin to grow jumpy at the weird hallucinations they see in the corner of their eyes. And even though he’s not ill, Noah sees these visions as well. MacLeod allows the feeling to remain ambiguous as long as possible, setting the stage for when the crew have no choice but to leave the ship and trek across the ice seeking sanctuary.

After the dense fog breaks, the men can see something in the distance, barely visible even with binoculars, but there nonetheless. Is it their destination, the Nilfheim drilling platform? Regardless, the men make the tough decision of journeying across the frozen water. They really have no other choice; it’s leave the ship, or die a slow, frozen death. MacLeod ramps up the action and tension here, upping the ante when one of the crew falls through a thin spot in the ice. Closer to their destination than to the Arctic Promise, Noah has no choice but to make a run for it, dragging his dying crewmate behind him. And it is here that MacLeod cracks the ice beneath our feet, and shows us that nothing is right in this frozen hell. The world is unstable, and now Noah and the crew must face the ghosts of the past just to survive.

MacLeod stretches his narrative muscles in the second half of the novel in ways readers will never see coming in a million years. Throughout the narrative, he’s been planting the seeds, carefully cultivating the logical yet unpredictable supernatural element, and all without making it feel like he shoehorned it into the story. The progress is organic, and extremely grounded. Though beyond believable, the concepts here are both cerebral and emotional, intimately connected at the heart and soul of Noah and the crew.

If there were any flaws to this novel, it might be the slight suspension of belief required to make the leap to the strange and unnatural situation in the second half of the novel, but only if readers are extremely nitpicky. All in all, readers will find themselves reeled in by the narrative, letting MacLeod’s hook sink in all the way as he drags them through the icy waters to his own vision of Hell. The ending of the novel is one of the strongest endings we’ve seen for a thriller in a long time, closing off all the loose ends while keeping its questions out in the open, allowing readers to take what they want from the story. Certainly, there’s a message here, but MacLeod is only the messenger, what you take away from it is yours and yours alone.

Already optioned for a possible television series, Bracken MacLeod’s Stranded promises to be one of the best novels of the year. Combining the aspects of a thriller with concepts often seen in horror and science-fiction stories, Stranded promises chills and scares that will definitely send shivers down reader’s spines in the coming Winter months. In a year already flooded with exceptional novels and collections, we think adding Stranded by Bracken MacLeod to that list will be the best decision readers can make, as this one comes highly recommended.


Publisher: Tor Books
Paperback: (304pp)
Release Date: 4 October 2016

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