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Ascent by Luke Walker

When terrorists threaten to detonate a nuclear device outside RAF Lakenheath, Kelly Wells races for a nearby office block, frantic to find her sister in their last moments. At the same time, a handful of others do the same—all desperate to make it to loved ones before the bomb goes off barely fifty miles away.

In the frozen second of the explosion, Kelly, her sister, and three strangers are trapped in that instant and trapped in the building. But they are not alone. A sleeping evil from the deepest pits of the earth has awoken.

Stalked by a creature that knows their most private secrets and fears, the group are lost in a world of their individual Hells.

Try and imagine looking out of a window and seeing the world end in a flash. One moment everything is trundling along as normal, and the next your entire world has irrevocably changed. Would you be immobilised by a crushing despair or driven into immediate action. In Ascent by Luke Walker a small group of people, Kelly, Simon, Rod, Dao and Alex experience that exact scenario.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this novel is the internal journey that each character takes. As the narrative unfolds the survivors move from their initial shock and confusion, through disbelief, until finally they manage some sort of acceptance. Each of them must try to find a way to embrace the new reality they now find themselves in. To a degree, it doesn’t even matter what is happening outside the building. The world could be smouldering in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion or be perfectly normal. That is no longer really relevant. This story is all about what is happening to a small group stuck inside their little bubble of existence. The choices they make, the paths they choose to follow, will determine if they live or die.

The horror in Ascent tends more towards the psychological rather than the physical. Don’t get me wrong, there are some epically gory moments, but those feel more like an aside to the main plot. Each of the characters experience very personal visions of what is going on inside the building. These nightmares are drawn directly from their own lives and it is a very effective plot device. Anyone reading the book will be able to easily appreciate the emotional toll that the group are having to deal with. Shame, fear, anger and helplessness are all things that we’ve experienced at one point or another. Walker’s writing directly targets those feelings and draws them out.  Of all the characters I think I found it was Rod’s story that was the most harrowing.

Location is a key factor in this novel. Greenham Place has a claustrophobic quality that feels almost palpable. From the way the building is described, it was easy to picture some huge imposing monolith. You can imagine the structure giving off a malevolent almost brooding vibe. Trapped in such a hideous environment, as everything you know and love disappears, there is little doubt this could push anyone over the edge into madness.

I think I was expecting something a bit more overt when I started reading this novel. I was pleased to discover however that Luke Walker’s writing is far subtler than that. Ascent is more than just your standard by-the-numbers horror. I kept finding myself going back to thinking about how I’d react in that situation*.  The characterisation does a great job of exploring the full gamut of emotions. Ordinary people facing extraordinary situations is always fascinates me so I was quickly engrossed in the plot.

There is a certain amount of ambiguity regarding the end of the novel. Some readers will likely find this a little off putting but I think it worked well. The author allows the reader the opportunity to come to their own conclusions regard this story’s final scenes. I enjoyed being able to take my own interpretation from how events play out.

Fair warning, there are some particularly dark moments in Ascent. There have been other books I’ve read where I’ve felt that the author has taken the detail on certain topics too far. In this instance however, the author does a good job of handling some genuinely difficult subject matter with a delicate touch.

A while ago I discovered the composer Joseph Bishara. His soundtrack work has a wonderfully unsettling quality that fits perfectly with Luke Walker’s book. If you are looking for some music to accompany Ascent I would suggest Insidious Chapter 2. You can thank me later, if you survive the experience obviously.

In conclusion, I’d recommend Ascent to anyone who enjoys their horror dark and deliciously sinister.

Ascent is published by Crowded Quarantine Publications and is available from 3rd June.

*For the curious amongst you – I’d likely make a hideous error of judgement within the first five minutes after the explosion and either fall out of a window or down a lift shaft.


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