Book Review – The Dark Land by D.M. Shepard

Alaska is the land the U.S. seems to have forgotten. Other than a brief flirtation with the state back when Sarah Palin claimed to be able to see the back of Vladimir Putin’s head from her porch, it seems like Alaska doesn’t really exist in popular culture. There’s plenty going on about the rest of the country from sweet tale of overcoming cancer in New Mexico that was “Breaking Bad” to the lovely travel documentary of Georgia in “Deliverance”. But aside from that terrible Steven Segal movie back in the day, Alaska seems to have fallen off the face of the planet. Which is a pity because there’s a lot of cool stuff in Alaska beyond the annual winter-time vampire feeding fest and HAARP.

So that’s why DM Shepard’s The Dark Land makes for such a great story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s more than just Alaska, the story is good and well-written, too. But setting something in Alaska and having it written by someone who actually lives in the state brings a great deal of detail to the story. In fact, if you’re so inclined, go read Shepard’s guest-post about the myths and legends she tapped to spin her yarn of terror, adventure, and romance.

Details are all fine and good in a story, but it is possible to get bogged down in them. They’re like tequila – fine in small doses but too much can leave on the floor questioning your sanity. Fortunately, Shepard understands that and uses the real-world details to add spice and depth to the story without overpowering it. In other words, she makes the frozen hell-hole that is Alaska live and breathe. She populates the world with characters you feel like you can almost touch and monsters that are just as alien as anything you can imagine. And throughout the whole thing makes a Southwestern guy like me wonder what the hell people are doing trudging through the snow when its, like, four degrees below absolute zero out there.

As I said earlier, this is blend of action, horror, and romance. Which would seem to make for strange bedfellows, but Shepard pulls it off brilliantly and lets each style emerge on its own terms. It would be easy to have a romantic interlude in the woods that leads to getting eaten by monsters. It’s far harder to put two characters together and not have them go steamrollering straight to the sack. She lets the story develop in its own time. So, you can go from some pretty intense action to a calming sequence to some pretty intense action of another type, if you get my drift. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a good story, well-told, with enough mystery and detail added to make it feel real, even when the tale points the car toward mythology town and steps on the gas. Truly a treasure. This is the kind of story they make movies out of.

A dark tale of legendary creatures stalking the isolated trails of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in the deep cold of winter.

Lured by her high peaks and vast forests, adventurers swarm to the siren call of Alaska’s backcountry. Her harsh bite scars many. Some never return.

Please find my son’s remains…

Haunted by the last request of her foster mother, experienced outdoorswoman, Rose Long, skis into the Wrangell-St. Elias wilderness to search for clues surrounding the missing man. Concerned about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the older woman’s death, her childhood friend, Ulrik, joins the quest to protect the woman he secretly loves.
Ancient evil seethes in the ice-locked boreal forest, watching their every move during the long northern nights. The legend of the Headless Ravine is steeped in blood. The Dark Land’s hunger for flesh never sleeps, even in the deepest cold of winter—and it has marked Rose as its next victim.

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