Cover Image: This Wretched Valley

This Wretched Valley

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Member Reviews

An enjoyably suspenseful survival horror novel! The descriptions of the woods and the climbing elements of the story sucked me in. There were times that I was so invested that I wanted to throw the book. Not listening to your instincts or the dog (yes you saw something)!?! Professional climbers that should know better in some of the situations they were put in!?! Arg! Loved it!

This Wretched Valley is a great debut novel that has me not wanting to go for a hike and will definitely have me listening to the locals.

I want to thank NetGalley, Jenny Kiefer and Quirk Books for the e-ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are honest, my own and left voluntarily.

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This Wretched Valley is a visceral and gruesome read that keeps up the intensity throughout the whole book. There are multiple narrators, but the shifts in who is speaking is not jarring. There is a constant dread that builds up, and this keeps the pacing quick.

There were parts that made me want to stop reading because of how scary it is. The characters’ terror easily comes off the page and infects the reader. The writing is so visceral that it makes you not only scared of the unknown, but also of heights during the climbing sequences.

My favorite part is that the scares aren’t quick: they are drawn out for maximum effect. That coupled with the building dread really makes this a book that you will not be able to put down.

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The concept of this book is so cool. The unease, the gore - excellent. The moment when Dylan is climbing the cliff untethered was one of the most exciting scenes I’ve ever read. The fact that it was touted as survival horror also brought me in.

However, I found myself repeatedly pulled out by the writing style, particularly with the characters’ dialogue. For example, the characters would switch emotions rapidly within the same conversation without cause. I enjoyed each chapter or section switching the point of view, but sometimes it switched mid page, which I found distracting.

Additionally, Dylan was a well-developed character, but I wish her and Luka’s relationship was more developed so I cared more.

I enjoyed the dread and spookiness throughout, but the reveal of what was going on felt at odds with the tones of the rest. I would still recommend reading it, as there were a lot of elements I enjoyed.

ARC received from Quirk Books via Netgalley.

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2.5 stars. I think this author has a lot of potential, but this particularly book is a bit messy. Some very good, gross horror. Some good tension moments, but overall fairly repetitive in language and downright nonsensical at times (the MC runs what is described as 'at least a marathon' while suffering blood loss and with a busted ankle). I didn't feel much depth from any of the characters so I cared a lot less about them than I would have wanted to. Overall, I would have preferred the ghosts to stay a little bit more mysterious and gotten a few more surprises in this, rather than a lot of pretty same-y action and description. I will be interested to give her future projects a try because the potential is there, but this did not hit for me.

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DO NOT TOUCH THIS GROUND

Some monsters live outside the shadows, beneath the sun, sitting beside you, watching and plotting.

Jenny Kiefer’s debut, This Wretched Valley, will appease horror readers who crave fright outside the typical haunted house or killer’s dimly lit basement. Many hair-raising, nail-biting scenes occur in broad daylight, and exploring an uncharted rock in the valley leaves the team isolated from surrounding campers or hikers. Not that many visit that wretched valley, anyway. Not after all the disappearances over the years.

Kiefer doesn’t ease readers into This Wretched Valley. The first few pages unfold like the beginning of a true crime docuseries:

What baffled them was the skeleton.
Dylan and her old friend, Clay, now a geologist, discover an untouched cliff face in the Kentucky wilderness, and she is desperate to be the first to climb it. This could be her big break, and she plans to document her journey as Instagram’s next rock-climbing star. They bring Dylan’s boyfriend, Luke, and Clay’s research assistant, Sylvia, who also seek glory and renewal from the expedition.

But, something goes terribly wrong. Dylan’s Instagram feed goes quiet. When she finally shares a live video, she breaks up; she’s disheveled and frantic, pleading for help. Police searched the site several times with dogs and volunteers but found nothing. And to others, the rock doesn’t appear there, as if it never existed.

Seven months later, three bodies are discovered just off the highway. Coroners struggle to make sense of the bones. Had a squirrel taken the one boy’s eyes? Did they become desperate and resort to cannibalism? Had that triggered violence amongst the group?

Either way, Dylan is still missing.

Based partly on the Dyatlov Pass Incident, where nine highly skilled cross-country skiers and experienced hikers went missing, This Wretched Valley introduces a new nightmare on every page. Like most evil places, the valley comes with a history that Keifer unwinds in chapters dating back to the 1700s when the Cherokee and Shawnee said the area was alluring with pretty flowers and growth. However, they warned their harvest turned rotten, causing hallucinations, heart palpitations, vomiting, and death.

Another era within the valley speaks of famine and murder. The woods and the bleeding rock Dylan is so desperate to climb emit the grueling echo of the dead. Something lives in those woods. And it’s rumbling with hunger.

There’s a sophistication to Keifer’s storytelling that makes the setting more of a lead than Dylan or the ensemble mentioned above. None of the characters felt especially impressionable, but that is by design. Instead, the author uses her interest and experience in climbing to make the more anxiety-inducing scenes palpable and the characterization of the woods unforgettable.

The way Keifer makes readers squirm through the mounting dread from start to finish is worth noting. Despite being the author’s debut novel, This Wretched Valley is a glittering contender for Best Horror of 2024. This reviewer knows we’re only in the first month of the year and writes this praise with conviction.

This Wretched Valley is for readers who enjoy survival, supernatural, and body horror in the same vein as Scott Smith’s The Ruins.

This book is unshakeable. Inescapable. The blood lake. The kills.

You have to read it.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.
This was an amazing debut novel! Creepy as can be and I loved the setting.
I definitely look forward to reading more books by this author as she did a great job!

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I love horror. I love survival stories. I wanted to love this book - but I'd give it 3.5 stars. The gore was great...until it became almost repetitive. I disliked the characters, except for Slade, the dog. The cover, however....FANTASTIC.

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This Wretched Valley by Jenny Kiefer started promising. It throws you into a creepy wilderness scenario with Descent vibes and Blair Witch chills. Four friends, lured by a climb, stumble into a Kentucky nightmare. Sounds good, right? Except...
The constant perspective shifts were jarring, and the characters themselves were frustratingly dense; the gore was certainly visceral, but for me, it felt like shock value over genuine scares. Maybe I'm missing something, but This Wretched Valley promised a wild descent but ended up a frustrating mess.

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This was creepy and panic-inducing from the very beginning. The setting was practically it's own character. Definitely scratched the "things that make me want to put my book in the freezer" itch.

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3.5 rounded up! This book was so unique and gripping! It honestly took me a hot minute to get into the story, but once I was, I was SAT! For a debut novel, this was amazing! However, I wished it was almost shorter and really dove into more of the supernatural imagery in some parts. I did love the idea of splitting up the third person perspectives between the characters with all of the dramatic irony involved with the story. Overall, this was a fun read!

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Remind me not to go climbing again...A survival horror that kept me gripped until the very last page - brilliant

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4 stars

A really promising horror debut! I will be watching Kiefer’s writing career with interest.

This Kentucky backwoods survival-horror novel has a gripping beginning but, for me, flagged a little after the 70% mark. The build-up, anticipation, and mystery are just divine, but the payoff left me wanting.

That said: I absolutely love the dread and confusion that Kiefer is able to play with in the first half of the book. The sense of things being not-quite-right, but when you focus on them they seem just fine; tiny inconsistencies that aren’t big enough to take notice of but still leave you feeling slightly off. There’s also a nice balance to the inevitability and the mystery, in that from the very first pages we know three of the campers won’t make it out alive, but we are left in suspense as to the fate of the fourth.

I really liked the character work in this book; each of our small main cast was a distinct, individual, and interesting character, which makes it all the more fun to watch them work toward their goals, grapple with the encroaching horror, and try to work with—or escape from—each other.

A few things get clunky, especially toward the end. I didn’t particularly care for the somewhat ‘digital’ imagery of the forest horror; I want primal, triggers-my-instincts natural horror from a paranormal woods story, not glitches and GIFs. I also felt somewhat unsatisfied by the treatment of ghosts; the story couldn’t seem to decide whether the ghosts are conscious actors or not, or whether they’re a secondary threat or just a symptom of the woods’ own malevolence. Knowing, either way, would have made them spookier.

While the ending didn’t quite get me, I read horror for the hair-raising buildup, so this book was a win for me. I hope Kiefer’s next offering is even better.

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This book was wild!! Talk about a camping/rock climbing expedition gone very bad! Fans of The Ruins will absolutely love this one too.

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I think this was a good survival thriller that is reminiscent of the Dyatlov Pass incident although with a supernatural element added to it. I think the author did a good job of setting the atmosphere and developing the characters and their relationships to each other and their surroundings. The only thing was that it would have been interesting to get a sense of what was happening in the world while they were in the woods. One particular character was a media personality so I just feel like adding the social media aspect from the other side would have given us a sense of what the world and their families were thinking while they were missing. The eerie videos and livestreams were a good addition and added a Blair Witch Project element to the story but it would have given the story a bit more depth to have utilized that aspect a bit more.

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This Wretched Valley takes readers on a spine-chilling journey into the heart of Kentucky's untamed wilderness, where the promise of adventure transforms into a nightmarish tale of horror. Dylan, aspiring rock climber, embarks on what was meant to be her breakthrough expedition, only for the expedition to devolve into a macabre mystery that haunts the reader long after the final page.

Keifer weaves a sinister narrative that unfolds against the backdrop of the mysterious Dyatlov Pass in Kentucky, where an untouched cliff face beckons the intrepid climbers. The story kicks off with a sense of excitement and anticipation, as Dylan, accompanied by geologist Clay, research assistant Sylvia, and boyfriend Luke, seeks to document her triumphant ascent to fame on social media.

The dread-inducing atmosphere created by Kiefer is tense, intensifying along the way. The story explores the psychological toll on the remaining characters as they confront the unknown and struggle with the dark, sinister forces at play. The suspense builds steadily, reaching a great twist and climax.

The strength of This Wretched Valley lies not only in its ability to evoke fear but also in the storytelling that kept me guessing. Kiefer skillfully combines elements of supernatural horror with the psychological unraveling of the characters, creating an immersive read.

In conclusion, Kiefer's debut is a tour de force in the horror genre, offering a fascinating exploration of the unknown wilderness, coupled with a relentless sense of dread. This Wretched Valley is a must-read for those who relish tales that linger in the shadows, leaving an indelible mark on the psyche.

One of the big selling points for me was the Kentucky setting. As I’m migrating to the state, it was wild reading a horror book by such a talent being set there. It reminded me a lot of Blair Witch and Scott Smith’s The Ruins in that cool ‘90s horror style, but of course, had its own voice. Great stuff.

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I'd like to thank the publisher for providing me with an ARC.

It started off good, but ultimately fell flat. It was repetitive. The characters felt one dimensional. The plot didn't seem to be well fleshed out either.

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I received a free copy of this for review from NetGalley.

This supernatural thriller kept me on my toes. I couldn't put it down! Even though you know the ending by the beginning, it didn't give anything away.

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The opening chapter is one of the most intriguing I've read in a long term but, after that, it all sort of falls flat.

It feels like the author had too many plot points which could have (should have) been split into other stories.

None of the characters come off well but less in a 'they are morally not good people and therefore I cannot empathise' way but in a 'these characters fall flat and I do not care about them' kind of way.

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This was the biggest kind of disappointment. The opening chapter was everything I could hopeful and more! I was hooked, I had to know more! However, it quickly fell apart for me there. I found myself bored, and unsympathetic to any of the characters. I didn't like the way the supernatural elements of this book were executed.


**SPOILERS AHEAD***

There were just too many ideas going on for me with this one. I was on board for the whole cursed plot of land thing..but the time skips were jarring and off putting. Then one of the characters keeps getting sucked into a different "time" Another, is constantly seeing the ghosts for some inexplicable reason- maybe his proximity to death? Then, we find out the ghosts are cannibalistic? I just don't get it. Yeah yeah, they were "feeding" the land, but this route was just bizarre to me. This one was just very much not for me.

I keep seeing this one compared to The Ruins, and for the life of me I cannot see why? Other than a group of young adults being "stuck" somewhere? I really don't get this comparison.

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I freaking loved this book! Spooky and with a great cast of characters! Full review to come. Definitely five stars!

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