Dark Fiction Review – Northwoods Deep by Joel Arnold


Review Disclaimer

A few disclaimers about this review before I get started:

  • I know Joel Arnold personally. He is a fellow member of the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writer’s Group.
  • I purchased Northwoods Deep from Joel directly.
  • I do not owe Joel money from an old gambling debt involving Jagermeister, a Trampoline and a Super-Soaker. No matter what he says.
  • I was not compensated for this review. (But I do get some love if you follow my links to Amazon, which helps offset my webhosting fees and various addictions which may involve Jagermeister, Trampolines, and Super-Soakers…)

File Under Horror

With that out of the way, I can tell you it’s been a while since I’ve read real Horror like this. It was refreshing to read something that was not chilling, dark, or edgy, but actually horrifying.

If Twilight read Northwoods Deep, it would die of fright.

Cabin-in-the-woods stories seem to have faded in popularity over the years. Even Jason Voorhees eventually left his cabin and  traveled  to outer space. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room here to play. Joss Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods is one example. Joel Arnold’s Northwoods Deep is another.

Carol and Brenda Gunderson embark on a canoe trip on the Mesaba River. When their canoe capsizes, they discover a cabin in the woods occupied by an old man hiding a terrible secret. Based on a mix of Native American folklore and the Grimm Brother’s Hansel & Gretel, Northwoods Deep will take you on a wild ride over the river and through the woods, straight into terror. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11805438-northwoods-deep?ac=1

The cover shows a close-up of a cabin window, and inside is a pile of human skulls that must be at least waist-deep. Far from just symbolic, it is actually pretty close to the truth. Consider it accurate foreshadowing. Rustic setting. Cabin in the woods. Lots of bones…

Northwoods Deep is an all-you-can-read buffet of horror: Bugs, dead bodies, spousal abuse, murder, rape, bestiality, torture, bondage, stalking, alcoholism, ghosts, nightmares, dark family secrets, and my personal least-favorite, the claustrophobic feeling of being buried alive…

But the underlying supernatural horror is the cherry on top of the horror sundae called Northwoods Deep. I won’t give too much away by saying that if you aren’t digging the start of the book, hang in there. Like Stephen King’s writings, Northwoods Deep slides slowly from a real-world scenario into a supernatural horror-fest.

Joel’s writing is clean and crisp. He delivers just the right level of detail. He knows how much to show, and just as importantly, what to leave out. This is  crucial for good horror stories. The author has to leave enough space for your mind to fill in the blanks, and this is done well in Northwoods Deep.

Pacing is smooth for the most part. Joel doesn’t let you rest for long before unleashing some new horror on you, or showing you things from a different and more horrifying perspective. As you would expect, the ending of the book becomes a page-turner as the plotlines come together to climax. The epilogue gives one of the characters a disturbing resolution, but otherwise, there was no  ante-climax.  I would have liked to see how the surviving characters had changed (or not) after their ordeal. Perhaps in the sequel…?

Joel’s description is very good, especially when describing locations. I’m extremely familiar with cabins, camping, and canoeing in Northern Minnesota where most of  Northwoods Deep  takes place. So I can vouch that Joel paints an accurate picture of the setting. He brings out elements of the area that most people would take for granted. I know the setting will be  interesting  for those who’ve never left the city.

Characters are good, although I wish the protagonist Carol was tougher. She puts up a half-hearted front and makes a couple brave decisions, but in the end I felt she was a weak hero, constantly fretting and relying too much on others to bail her out of trouble. Then again, I generally enjoy reading about Kick Ass Heroines, so others might find the character more real and easy to relate to.

The evil in Northwoods Deep is scattered at first. In fact, the number of  antagonists might exceed the number of protagonists. I lost count. But the danger ratchets up well through the story and  consolidates  via some clever plot twists.

There are many character points-of-view (POVs) in this story.  The POV shifted around more often than I prefer, but we get LOTS of insight into the mind of the antagonists, and those sections I thought were the most terrifying of all.

Northwoods Deep – Executive Summary Review

conradzero.com Shadow of Approval for Dark Arts and Artists

Northwoods Deep by Joel Arnold is a recipient of the “Arts of Darkness Shadow of Approval” award.

Northwoods Deep by Joel Arnold combines Native American folklore with Hansel and Gretel, and  applies layers of both physical and psychological horrors from many different perspectives.

The story follows Carol Gunderson as she joins her sister on a canoe trip in Northern Minnesota. Carol just wants to unwind and forget about her abusive, stalking, ex-husband. But a powerful and ancient evil in a secluded cabin has other plans, and Carol’s trip descends into supernatural terror.

Despite containing scenes of torture, rape, and  bestiality, the writing cleverly manages to avoid being graphic. There is plenty of space for your own mind to fill in the gory details. This story is definitely not for the immature or squeamish.

No matter what pushes your panic button, I guarantee there is something in Northwoods Deep  to frighten you.

Conrad Zero

Yours Darkly, Conrad Zero