Six contestants pair off into three teams, eager to be a part of the pilot season for a new reality show where victory will land half a million dollars in their pockets. All they have to do is overcome the environment and earn points by completing challenges – sounds easy, right? The last thing they expected was to be dumped in the northern Arctic, where life seems non-existent until the howling begins and people start dying. Now they must forget the cameras and the money, their lives depending on it.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
With an interesting concept that included an immersive and severe battle with the elements, Stranded was my second Miller novella to date, the first being the highly recommended Cats Like Cream. I tend to like the reality-show-gone-wrong idea, because why not make an already terrible thing even more terrible? It was fast-paced and fun, what grasped me the most being its Arctic locale and the detrimental effects it had on the characters – I seriously can’t get enough of cold climates. There’s something about freezing temperatures and inhospitable terrain that strikes me as so atmospheric, and the writing here didn’t disappoint in that regard; Miller’s a capable author who can set a scene. However, despite my overall appreciation of the setting, it’s going to be a difficult one to remember down the line. Even now, the cast of characters – six contestants as well as various crew members – have merged together into an unidentifiable blob, but that is more so to do with the type of reader I am. Without enough time to acquaint myself with personalities, I often have difficulty distinguishing between multiple names, and it’s something that novellas are especially at risk of. I feel that there just wasn’t enough to tell them apart in such a short length of time, with the exception of Max, for reasons I’ll leave out. I also believe there was something missed by not exploring the dynamics of the couples further, and by not including some of the challenges that were intended for them – I’d have loved an extended version of this story.
From my understanding there were two separate entities at play, although it was left largely unclear throughout as to the specifics, with only speculation and brief descriptions. Whatever exactly it was had an appetite for bloodshed, which likewise entertained and interested me due to the peppering of indigenous folklore involved. The ending only piqued my curiosity all the more, as not everything was as cut and dry as it first appeared. I just like monsters, what else can I say?
In conclusion: Atmospheric and brutal, Stranded painted a harsh landscape and supplemented its bleakness with human greed. There were elements that appealed to me, such as the struggle for survival in an environment so depressing, yet I had some difficulties keeping up with the characters who all seemed a slight too similar. The bodies started piling up pretty quickly, involving creatures that were never truly identified, but I found the mystery surrounding them intriguing. For the most part, I enjoyed it for the speedy read it was, but I also couldn’t help but wish for more development, especially when it came to the competition and pairings.
This feeling brought with it a knowledge he’d prefer not to have; they were all going to die.
© Red Lace 2021