Author: KC Jones
Beth is a car wreck of a person: all broken parts, sputtering starts, and failed journeys. Her mother is the one who came up with the analogy, and Beth knows that it fits; she is haunted by her failures, the broken friendships, the failed jobs, the lost opportunities, the hopelessness of it all. While house sitting for a rich family at a fancy beach town, she does it again. She reaches out to connect when she shouldn’t and finds herself drunk on champagne, in bed with the solitary man next door, pinioned by nightmares and a hangover. This time, however, the car wreck is more universal. Beth and Mike wake up from their bad decision to a new, terrifying world.
Through disaster and happenstance, Beth and Mike find themselves stranded in their car on the beach, hunted by unearthly creatures, wondering what happened to the world that is slowly transforming around them. The nightmares that plagued them were real and somehow, a meteor shower has brought new, deadly lifeforms to earth. They are now surrounded by violent death, the ominous stirring of the dune grasses, and the blood-spattered sand. This time, it’s bigger than both of them. The water is encroaching, they have no supplies and no means of escape, and it seems like help isn’t coming.
The write-up for Black Tide claims that it is “Cujo meets A Quite Place.” This was the sentiment that made me decide to read this book, and it is 100% accurate. There is also quite a feeling of The Mist here as well as the inexplicable, sudden changes that characterize all the best post-apocalyptic disaster fiction, echoing my beloved Night of the Living Dead. We do get a bit of an explanation, but this story is not about answers, but about survival, about people acting their best and worst under duress, and about creative creatures from outside of this world. It is absolutely everything that is best in apocalyptic disaster storytelling – vivid, heart-rending, full of jump scares and startles, alternatingly action packed and thoughtful.
K.C. Jones wisely chose to let us get to know Mike and Beth first. This is accomplished quickly, yet by the time they wake up to the awkwardness of a desperate one-night stand, we’re already invested in them. Beth is a walking disaster, a person who made enough bad choices to shatter her own self esteem. Mike is something altogether different, and his story takes longer to spool out. What happens with both our fractured people, seeking connection at the end of the world, is enough to emotionally invest us in their trauma and help us enjoy their personal growth from hating life to fighting for it.
The creatures though . . . this is where it shines. Stephen King proved that you can do a lot in a small, locked space, and K.C. Jones builds on that here. As Mike and Beth fight for life, we get to slowly meet more creatures and get a bigger, more comprehensive picture of just what has gone wrong here. My favorite is, of course, the Shriekers, invisible creatures that only become visible when opening their fanged maws. Truly inventive…. And these are the “lesser” beasts that now populate this dying world.
The conclusion is somewhat hopeful, somewhat sad. It’s a perfect way to end, with just enough mystery to keep this world alive and just enough explanation to let us know that humanity is truly doomed. I was invested throughout and will be picking up more of Jones’ work. Highly recommended.
– Frances Carden
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