Book Review – The Devil’s Valley by DM Shepard

Back in May of 2020, I reviewed a great novel by DM Shepard – The Dark Land. Even though 2020 felt like it lasted twenty years, that was only a little over a year ago. The Dark Land was a horror novel set in that arctic hellscape we like to call Alaska – a place where the mosquitos are organized and voracious, it snows in July, and vampires stalk the long night to feast on the blood of the living. No. Wait. That last bit was the plot to 30 Days of Night, a movie which, um, had vampires in it.

Anyway, rather than rely on the trope of vampires as the prevailing monsters, Shepard did her research and found Alaska was already populated with far worse monsters than a 19th century gentleman in Ireland could come up with. Rather than sucking the blood out of victims and making women pine away for the vampire’s gaze, Shepard’s Tailed Men played soccer with human heads and turned women into zombie sex slaves. Perhaps the gentry of 19th century Europe found rejecting the church and drinking blood to be oh so gauche, something only the lower classes would do, while a gentleman was expected to avoid such tawdry things.

Alaska has a long and rich heritage of people living there for millennia. These were tough SOBs who would probably say, “Drinks blood? So what? Had bloodsicles for breakfast since I ran out of whiskey.”

By taking the sheer toughness of Alaskans and pairing it with a long native story-telling tradition (What else are you going to do when it’s 0 degrees Kelvin outside?), you get tough hombres facing off scary tough hombres in an epic hombre cage match. Only the cage is made of ice and the chill in the air will freeze your lungs.

The Dark Land ended on a relatively upbeat tone. Sure, a lot of people were dead, but it looked like the enemy had been pushed back across the 39th parallel and things would calm down for a while. In the fine tradition of sequels everywhere, in The Devil’s Valley we find that while the Tailed Men may have been pushed back, they were by no means down for the count. They come roaring – well, snarling, snapping, and chittering – back with vengeance in their dark little hearts.

Like The Dark Land before it, The Devil’s Valley is a terse thriller. It gives us believable characters stuck in a horrifying situation, but it’s not weighed down by subplots or other malarkey. Think of it as the Ariel Atom of horror stories. Pure, lean, mean, and ready to rip your flesh off. Which, frankly, is how horror stories should be. It fills in some details about the Tailed Men’s motives and expands on their general nasty demeanor while also giving us a bit of backstory about how this isn’t the first time the bastards have crawled out of their caves. The Devil’s Valley also hints at more stories to come and ends on a cliffhanger, so hopefully Shepard is hard at work in Alaska right now figuring out how to get her characters out of the pickle she left them in and also finding bigger pickles to put them back into.

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Five friends on a winter fishing trip discover that something bites harder than the Alaskan winter. Evil places earn their names for a reason, and were never meant for humans to trespass.

Rose and Ulrik must make a choice—return to the safety of civilization, or save the ones they love.

On the heels of their near-death battle with the legendary Tailed-Men at the Headless Ravine, Rose and Ulrik face a new challenge. The dead walk in the icy forest; leaving nightmares in their wake. Voices whisper in the darkness, driving people to question their sanity. Surrounded by monsters in a vast wilderness, the psychological warfare is now worse than the creatures’ obsidian claws and whip-like tails. When a group of their close friends on a winter camping trip are the next targets of the Tailed Men, Rose and Ulrik will risk everything to save them.

The answers to defeating the Tailed-Men hide behind the jade grin of an ancient and mysterious golden skull, and time is running out to unlock its secrets and save their friends. It’s a treacherous race against time and darkness to reach the north side of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to a remote place known as:

The Devil’s Valley

The Dark Land is now waging war. The stakes are their lives…and the souls of the ones they hold dear.

Guest Post – Athabascan Languages and Legends by Daniella Shepard

“The Headless Ravine? You mean up Chitistone Gorge? That’s just a legend.”

“Yeah, the Athabascans didn’t name it that for nothing, kid.”

Myths and Legends of all cultures have fascinated me since I was a little girl. One of my favorites is that of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of the Mojave Desert (near Death Valley). They tell of early times, when the Coyote Spirit carried the First People into the Living Valley (what the Europeans would later name Death Valley) in a basket. He fell asleep, and the people crept out and populated the world. This took place at the Wosa, now known as Ubehebe Crater, a large extinct crater shaped like a basket in the National Park. I always liked to picture the coyote sleeping under the multitude of desert stars, while the curious people wandered away.

As I grew older, my brother, cousin and I would sit around and tell darker stories. Those of the of the Yucca Man and Skin Walkers. The southwest like every region of the world has its own tales of creatures that stalk the empty, uninhabited spaces of the land.

Native Legends

Navajo Legends

Yucca Man

Athabascan Language Groups

When I moved to Alaska in 2007, I became fascinated with the differences and similarities between the legends I grew up with and the ones I encountered in my new home. Something that I didn’t know, and others may be surprised to learn, is that Alaska Natives First Peoples of the interior of Alaska, called the Northern Athabascans, are actually related to the Apache-Navajo tribes of the American Southwest. The Apache Navajo are considered to be Southern Athabascan (also spelled Athapascan). The language structure, verb usage and words are similar, though the two groups live more than 3000 miles apart and have had no contact for many millennia. Some words have become obsolete over time and distance as the languages have evolved, but they have found that if they bring members from the different groups together, they are able to understand each other with some difficulty. I have included some links below that talk in more detail about the Athabascan Languages, relationships, dialects and origins.

Athabaskan Peoples Languages

http://qenaga.org/relationships.html

http://athabascanvoice.blogspot.com/2013/05/athabaskan-languages.html

Of the 31 dialects of Athabascan in Alaska, my particular story, The Dark Land is derived from legend of tailed creatures in the interior of Alaska in the region of the Ahtna (referring to the Upper Ahtna). The Dene, Han, Upper Tanana and other tribes have similar stories and legends revolving around evil creatures in the Alaska-Yukon wilderness, the most complete version resides in the book, Tatl’ahwt’aenn Nenn’ or The Headwater’s People’s Country, transcribed and edited by James Kari.

Cet’aenn Nal’aen’de (When the Tailed Ones Were Seen), is a chilling account of the Upper Ahtna’s encounter with the Cet’aenn (pronounced: Ket-ANN) detailed in the aforementioned book. It described evil, monkey-like creatures* that would come out of the ground at night and watch from the hills. The story describes how the Ahtna vanquished the creatures in the particular area known as Roasted Salmon Place (Batzulnetas), but the implication is that they didn’t eliminate them entirely.

*English translation-no word for monkey in Dena’ina/Ahtna.

Talking with some of my other friends who are more closely related to the Tanacross/Tanana tribes, this oral story/legend is not familiar to them. But they are very familiar with what is known as the Bush Men (Ts’el’eni or Kol’eni) or “Wild Men of the Tundra.” According to legend these men are known for kidnapping women and children and waging war against the First Peoples. There is also fervent belief in “The Hairy Man,” or the Wood Man (Nuhu’anh) what we would call Big Foot or Sasquatch.

http://www.native-languages.org/ahtna-legends.htm

No matter where you go, the theme of something sinister lurking in the woods beyond the shadows of the campfire prevails. No matter what our differences, tales of things waiting to devour those that stay too far from the path permeate every culture. Blending these tales into my own brand of fiction was a fun adventure, at the same time I wanted to share the inspiration. I also wanted to share the reason why I will definitely think twice before investigating the strange noise outside my cabin in the darkness.

Thanks for reading. If you want to read about legendary bloodthirsty creatures stalking the frozen trails of Alaska, you can find The Dark Land on Amazon.

You can also check out more of my blog posts about my Alaska adventures on my website:

http://dmshepard.com/blog/

Daniella’s book, The Dark Land, a wonderful mix of romance, terror, and action will be released May 4th. Yes, I’ve read it. Yes, it’s a lot of fun. Check back on May 4, 2020 for a full review.

You can also find Daniella on Twitter.