Thin Air by Michelle Paver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A suspenseful, atmospheric horror set in the Himalayas in the 1930s. The story follows Doctor Stephen Pearce, a last minute replacement on an expedition to climb Kangchenjunga, back then believed to be the highest peak in the world.
A malaise seems to follow Stephen, in the beginning seemingly only due to the bad weather, his love/hate relationship with his brother Kits, and troubles he left behind in London. But as the story progresses and the group climbs higher, to where the air is rarefied and the mind starts playing tricks, the doubt starts creeping that something else seems to be following the expedition – something dark, and malevolent, and tied to the fateful expedition that preceded them.
Michelle Paver spins another wonderful tale of natural and supernatural horror, where the hardship of climbing an indifferent, dangerous mountain is interspersed with the horror of a mind that starts doubting itself.
My only niggle is that, due to the time, setting, and first-person narrative, the cast list ends up being a bit of a “Boy’s own adventure”/white dude fest: the only named female character of significance is a memory, and the Indian and Nepalese natives are treated by the “sahibs” as little more than superstitious children, despite that they do most of the actual work.
The text name checks the deeds of female Alpinists and mountaineers, and Stephen himself takes baby steps towards understanding his own racism, but Paver herself acknowledges this historical limitation in the afterword.