This Wretched Valley - Jenny Kiefer
-genre: horror, thriller, supernatural horror, wilderness horror, survival horror, mystery
-release date: January 16, 2024 (Quirk Books)
Welcome to the first review in my Mini Mondays series! As my real-life workload has ramped up, I haven’t had as much time to devote to long-form book reviews— but I always love sharing highlights from my shelves with the Sinister Scoop squad, so I’ll be posting these mini reviews to whet your appetite and hopefully encourage you to dive into some of these recent reads!
So today, let’s walk deep into the wilderness…and talk about THIS WRETCHED VALLEY, the debut horror novel by Jenny Kiefer! This was one of my most-anticipated reads of 2024; literally, I spent weeks trying to secure a physical ARC of this title, and luckily enough, Jenny was able to get one sent over to me— plus, she included some pretty awesome goodies, stickers of her dogs, a gorgeous linograph print, and the Butcher Cabin Books stickers and bookmarks! Oh, did I mention? Jenny’s not just an incredible author; she runs a horror bookstore in Kentucky (and I can’t wait to visit one day!). Basically: Jenny’s an all-around force for good in the horror world, and her first book is a total knockout; it had my heart pounding, my palms sweating, and my mind racing— all the makings of a dynamic horror debut.
(Plus, she’s done some great work on marketing this book, including creating an ominous “helpline” phone number to call regarding the protagonists’ disappearance: 502-755-6381— this gave me nightmares in the best way!)
THIS WRETCHED VALLEY tells the story of four college students who embark on a research expedition into the forests of Kentucky, with the combined hopes of documenting key ecological findings (for Clay and Sylvia) and charting new rock-climbing paths (for budding social media star Dylan, accompanied by her boyfriend Luke and his dog Slade). We’re introduced to the tragic end of their story right in the first chapter: their bodies have been found in various states of death and devastation, all save for Dylan, who’s missing. Soon, we learn of the horrors that unfolded in the woods: fraying ropes, ominous footsteps, spotty cell phone service, and so much more. The tension in this book is unreal— even though I knew that the outcome wouldn’t be pretty, I couldn’t help but question every new twist and turn, and despite the expansive nature of the forest, it gave me major locked-room-thriller vibes given the claustrophobia manifesting between the characters. I’m reluctant to say anything else— this is a story worth experiencing firsthand.
If you want comp titles for this one, I’d say it’s a mix between Agony’s Lodestone by Laura Keating, the film The Descent (2005), and good-old-fashioned campfire tales… and it will haunt you long after you’re finished reading.
(And don’t worry: the dog survives!)