A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Briardark – S. A. Harian book review

Blair Witch Project meets Lost meets Annihilation meets Stranger Things in Briardark, thw otherworldly debut horror novel from Portland’s S. A.  Harian.

Field researcher Dr. Siena DuPont is obsessed. After working so closely with her mentor and surrogate father figure for years, she’s utterly fixated on investigating the Alpenglow glacier and surrounding area, Deadswitch Wilderness, in California. So much so that she’s willing to overlook her mentor’s frantic last words, “Don’t go!” She’s even willing to put her companion’s lives on the line – Cameron, her best friend with her own reasons for investigating Deadswitch; Emmett, her ex-fiancee, who’s come along to make sure she doesn’t experience any more mental breaks like the one that lead to the dissolution of their engagement; and Isaac, a fresh-faced grad student running with a mystical hunger for science. 

Meanwhile, Briardark’s other main thread revolves around Holden Sharpe, a 30-something IT technician working at Oregon State University who discovers a folder full of mysterious files on a remainder hard drive. They turn out to be just the distraction he needs from his recently dissolved relationship. 

Going through the files, Holden finds audio recordings from Dr. DuPont detailing the strange happenings in Deadswitch Wilderness. She talks about a spectral mountain peak that appears and disappears at random. She speaks of the arid, dusty landscape transforming at will into a mysterious, moss-strewn wilderness. Most alarmingly of all, she speaks of discovering a body in a tree.

These are Briardark‘s two main narrative threads but they are not the only perspectives. Nearly everyone gets a say, with chapters fluctuating from narrator to narrator. This mosaic structure also introduces some genuine surprises and real mystery, which Harian sustains to the final white-knuckled pages.

The first twist is a neat trick, that’ll raise your eyebrows and make you lean in, turning the pages a little bit faster as you realize you’ve got something more than just another mystery or thriller or even horror novel on your hands. The fact that Harian keeps delivering the surprises right up to the very end will leave you feeling like you climbed into the ring with a vastly under-rated opponent. 

Briardark‘s resistance towards easy categorization is one of its most exciting qualities. It’s a beautiful chimera of dark fantasy, sci-fi, and horror with a twist of mystery to make things just that much more compelling. It belongs beside recent genre classics like Annihilation, with its sense of cosmic mystery and looming dread. Here’s to hoping it sees such widespread acceptance and accolades. It deserves it. 

Briardark could just as easily defy genres altogether, though. At the end of the day – it’s an excellent book. Dr. DuPont’s naturalistic descriptions of Deadswitch Wilderness, and its mysteries, are reason enough to make Briardark a delightful read. The deep, rich characters and the relationships between them is the real marrow of the novel, though. If you didn’t care about the characters, you’re not going to care when they’re in peril. 

Instead, you’ll be hanging off the edge of your sofa as Siena, Cameron, and Isaac are terrorized and baffled by the Briardark.

S. A. Harian’s first novel under her own name is the first in a series, with the next Briardark novel scheduled for 2024. Next year can’t get here fast enough, as this book leaves off with a bang.

I cannot recommend Briardark enough. I had such a blast reading every thrilling, creeping, ominous sentence, keeping me up past my bedtime on numerous nights. 2023 horror is off to a bloody good start! 

Many thanks to Netgalley and Compass & Fern for the advanced reader’s copy.

Briardark is out today on Compass & Fern

S. A. Harian

ig: @s.a.harian

S. A. Harian YouTube Channel

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