Kate’s Review: “From Below”

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Book: “From Below” by Darcy Coates

Publishing Info: Poisoned Pen Press

Where Did I Get This Book: I received access to an eARC via NetGalley from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: No light. No air. No escape. Hundreds of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, a graveyard waits

Years ago, the SS Arcadia vanished without a trace during a routine voyage. Though a strange, garbled emergency message was broadcast, neither the ship nor any of its crew could be found. Sixty years later, its wreck has finally been discovered more than three hundred miles from its intended course…a silent graveyard deep beneath the ocean’s surface, eagerly waiting for the first sign of life. Cove and her dive team have been granted permission to explore the Arcadia’s rusting hull. Their purpose is straightforward: examine the wreck, film everything, and, if possible, uncover how and why the supposedly unsinkable ship vanished.

But the Arcadia has not yet had its fill of death, and something dark and hungry watches from below. With limited oxygen and the ship slowly closing in around them, Cove and her team will have to fight their way free of the unspeakable horror now desperate to claim them. Because once they’re trapped beneath the ocean’s waves, there’s no going back.

Review: Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for sending me an eARC of this novel!

Minnesota may not be on any oceans, but we do have Lake Superior, which is so vast and unruly at times that it kind of acts like the sea. Hell, it’s big enough and has enough commercial traffic on it that there have been a fair amount of shipwrecks in its waters, so many that I have a framed poster in our den of the various wreckages on a map of the Great Lakes. I got that poster when I was a tween, so clearly shipwrecks have fascinated me for awhile (fun fact, on a day where the conditions are right, you can see a shipwreck in the waters at the Split Rock Lighthouse, north of Duluth. I ALWAYS try to see it when I go). I was thinking a lot about the shipwrecks in Superior as I read “From Below” by Darcy Coates. But I also knew that, while similar, the wrecks I was thinking of weren’t comparable. The biggest reason is the actual ocean has A LOT more secrets than ol’ gitchi-gami does just by it’s vast unknown depths. The other, more fiction based one is that this shipwreck has some supernatural nonsense going on.

This story is told in two timelines that slowly come together to reveal what happened on the S.S. Arcadia, a ship that disappeared during a voyage sixty years prior and whose wreckage was just discovered way off course. The first timeline is in the present, with a dive team that has been selected to go in and document the wreckage. The other is on that doomed voyage, following the crew and the passengers as things slowly start to go wrong and a strange, choking fog stalks the ship. Which is just the beginning. In the present we have leader Cove and her crew going into the wreckage and finding clues as to what went on…. and as things go from solemn to strange to terrifying, they don’t feel like they can stop because they need the money the dive will bring in. Both timelines build up the dread at a languid pace, tightening the tension bit by bit until things suddenly snap. It goes on a little long and extends a bit more than it needs to, but it has moments of high tension and horror. I enjoyed the present timeline more than the past one, but both use different elements to achieve some well done scares. In the past it’s a frenzy of paranoia and desperation for the crew and passengers as things spiral out of control, and in the modern time it’s a realization that there are things left in this ship that should not be there. Cove is the most interesting character of them all, as she is trying to be a good leader, but also knows that they all need the compensation. It’s a legitimate factor that kept me from wholly disbelieving their choices in staying on (there was another issue near the end that I didn’t buy, but that’s just another byproduct of it going on a little long, which is mostly forgivable).

But Coates doesn’t only rely on the supernatural side of things when it comes to the horror moments in this book. I mean sure, a long lost shipwreck with a mysterious disappearance, and then horrors within, are great themes for a horror novel, and themes I don’t see TOO often (though interestingly enough Serena and I reviewed a novel this year that had those exact themes but in space). And these themes work really well here. But it’s more the real life and realistic moments that had my pulse pounding. Coates goes into some really good detail about deep sea diving, and just how dangerous it is, and a lot of the suspense was built up around a slowly running supply of oxygen, as well as the very real threats of the bends and pressure damage should one try to ascend too quickly. And when you are exploring an underwater ghost ship and find really horrific things inside, how are you NOT going to suck through your oxygen, or try to speed out of there just a little too quickly? Ugh, that really was the stuff that set me on edge. And Coates did a great job of explaining all of it for a layperson so I understood some of the dangers when I may not have initially.

So it seems I may have to go back through Darcy Coates’s catalog to see what else she has written, as “From Below” was super entertaining and definitely freaky. I wasn’t exactly in a rush to go deep sea diving at any point in my life, but this just clinches it.

Rating 7: A claustrophobic and eerie (and at times a bit drawn out) tale of ghost ships and exploration, “From Below” will surely chill horror fans to the bone.

Reader’s Advisory:

“From Below” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward to in 2022”.

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