Novel: The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé | Goodreads
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Something is wrong with Marianne.
It’s not just that her parents have split up, or that life hasn’t been the same since she quit dancing. Or even that her mother has checked herself into the hospital.
She’s losing time. Doing things she would never do. And objects around her seem to break whenever she comes close.
Something is after her. But a first attempt at an exorcism calls down the full force of the thing’s rage. It demands Marianne give back what she stole. And Marianne must uncover the truth that lies beneath it all before the nightmare can take what it think it’s owed, leaving Marianne trapped in the darkness of the other side.
When I read the synopsis for this one, I pretty much knew I was going to be hooked, and I was right. It’s an absolutely classic horror conflict: possession. Yet there isn’t a lot of it in YA books, unless it’s in an add-on or subplot. It’s surprisingly refreshing to read a concept when it’s pure, and just handed to you. Nothing else fancy.
As a note, I love horror books, but always feel like they have to have a purpose. I dislike unpleasant details just because they can be there, or anything too macabre. There’s a difference between twisted and gruesome.
The Dark Beneath the Ice was spot-on for my taste, and satisfied everything I wanted. It relied on a chilling atmosphere rather than shock factor (although there were plenty of explosive, tense, heart-out-of-my-chest moments.) The writing and events flowed into each other so smoothly, reminding me of the eerie unreliability of Mara as a narrator in The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.
Marianne was an intense girl, and I love reading about those. For one, she was an ex-dancer because the pressure of it got to be too much. But it was apparent in the way she spoke poetically about lines and movement, and about her childhood. She had an old grace, coupled with a temper that lashed out when her pressure cooker of a home got to be too much.
The book starts out with her parents filing for divorce, plunging her into volatility. When she goes to live with her aunt for a while, mirrors break. She loses time. Weird things keep happening to her at school. Naturally, everyone thinks that it’s the stress. Seeing a therapist helps, and she describes in detail what different medications do to her as she rolls through a few of them.
In desperation, she asks the odd Goth girl in her class, Rhiannon, for help. Rhiannon was a stellar supporting character (I looooved her) and also a love interest. Surprise! The Dark Beneath the Ice has an excellently written LGBT romance, full of slow-burn goodness. And it’s clear that their interest in each other is also based on them becoming best friends, which is honestly my favorite type to read. Rhiannon — nicknamed Ron — had a vivid personality. Lots of smoking and makeup and deeply caring for those around her. She was feisty, and a good person. Additionally, the chemistry between her and Marianne simmered.
The Dark Beneath the Ice was phenomenal in terms of atmosphere and tension. While we at first experience a lot of the inside of Marianne’s own head, it quickly transitions into showing rather than telling. The action — the malevolence of whatever it was inside Marianne — escalates and intensifies, compounding with the messiness of her family drama and the gorgeous imagery of the water coaxing her in.
Marianne constantly thought of the river, it snuck into her head elegantly, in a way that reminds me of the way Maggie Stiefvater wrote Cabeswater in the Raven Cycle books. While the being does speak to her (occasionally), it’s terrifying and harsh. When it acts, it’s disruptive and suspenseful, leaving me turning pages to see what would happen to Marianne (and honestly rather scared.) There are so many scenes that just completely hit the nail on the head.
Additionally, lots of excellent horror tropes are mixed in with the shivery goodness that is this read: a psychic woman reading her cards and saying it’s too much, that she can’t help; a dad reaching out to salvage their broken relationship; a comforting aunt with secrets of her own. Even finding help in the outcast at school. And they were all twisted in ways that felt fresh.
There’s an undercurrent of never feeling safe, and of never knowing what will happen. The pacing was exceptional, with each scene acting viscerally. The family characters were obviously flawed, with some unhealthy mechanisms for dealing with the stress of their past. The romance was sweet. And the being was awful.
My one complaint is that the ending felt too easy, like a cop-out. I wish that Bérubé had stretched herself more because it’s clear that she had the talent for plotting. I wanted more out of it, and for the story to have a longer climax. The haunting and beckoning and evil of the river, and whatever the thing was, with so much anguish and electricity? Didn’t deserve that ending.
Still, it was good. The rest of the book had just built up my expectations so much that I was expecting better.
All in all, I loved the plot. The writing was superb. The suspense is divine (and this is now the Halloween read I will recommend to EVERYONE.) And small details embellished The Dark Beneath the Ice even further. A tightly wound and excellent horror novel I would highly recommend.