Short Take: Like reading a horror movie.
Horror movies are a lot of fun, and I would be lying if I said otherwise. Horror novels are, obviously, awesome. But while they both share the “horror” moniker, they are actually very different mediums.
Horror movies tend to be fairly formulaic. The teenagers with questionable morals are the first to die. The loner will either go insane or save the day. The good guy and girl-next-door types will survive to the end. The characters are stereotypes, the deaths are gruesome, and bad things happen when the sun goes down.
Horror novels, on the other hand, are not limited by runtime and production budget, and they can get a lot more in-depth. The good guys can do bad things or vice versa, we can get to know their backgrounds and understand why they act in the ways that they do. Reading Pray For Darkness was a strange experience for me, because I felt like I was seeing a movie and reading a book at the same time.
Best friends Ben, Cooper, and Auggie are on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Amazon jungle in Peru. After meeting Brooke and Janie at a tourist lodge, they all decide to go camping in an unmapped part of the jungle.
Although the American group loves the idea of flirting with danger, they don’t expect to be put in a genuine survival situation. There are creatures in the darkness that exist only to kill, but even death isn’t the end. It’s a classic dream-turned-nightmare scenario.
The jungle is easily the main character in Pray For Darkness. The exotic beauty and danger were written with such attention to detail, I could nearly smell the earthiness of the air, and feel the hot humidity even in the middle of December. The sounds and colors were beautifully vivid.
Also, the cause of the zombification is actually pretty cool. I won’t give it away here, but after seeing a few particularly icky youtube videos, I can totally buy it. It’s the fun kind of “hey, let’s take this thing that’s real, and push it just a couple of inches further, and… HOLY CRAP!!”
I must give props to the author for remembering Chekov’s gun. There it was, displayed in the first act, and there it was, committing murder in the final act. No spoilers, but it wasn’t a gun, and it was set up perfectly. Well done, Mr. Rice. Well done indeed.
There were some aspects that just didn’t work for me though. For example, the ages of the guys in this book. Throughout the entire thing, they are referred to as “the boys” and with descriptions like “the boy’s slender frame”, I had the impression for about two-thirds of it that they were still in high school. It made reading scenes where they are boozing and hooking up with women in their 20’s really weird, and how do high school boys end up in the jungle for a weeks-long vacation without any adults? It might be nitpicky of me, but it was seriously distracting. And when there was finally some information that clarified their age, the whole “boys” thing became even more annoying. I just kept picturing some frat-bro with a backwards ball cap constantly referring to his social circle as “my boys” and yeah…. no. (Nerds & frat guys have a long & ugly history.)
There’s also a rather baffling change in tense in one chapter. I’m not sure if the intent was to make the action seem more intense and immediate, but it seemed more like a mistake in editing.
As I said earlier, Pray For Darkness is a horror movie in book form. I won’t give away any spoilers, because it WAS a fun book, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else. But basically, the hero gets a hero’s edit from page one. Even his jawline is heroic. He’s prepared for any emergency, and keeps his head when all the others are losing theirs. Of course the girl next door type female falls madly in love with him. There’s the overconfident jock, the kinda skanky-dressing hot girl, the weirdo loner. Everything happens in the expected sequence, and there’s the obligatory setup for a sequel.
What I’m getting at, in my long-winded way, is that there really aren’t many surprises here. Once I got a look at the jungle (and oh my, what an amazing look it was), everything was something I’ve seen before. What sets books apart is the space to explore other paths, to go down twists and turns without having to give some imaginary test audience what they expect.
So this one is hard to rate. As a movie, I’d give it a four, but as a book, a two. I’ll just take the average.
The Nerd’s Rating: THREE HAPPY NEURONS