Pumpjack Book Reviews

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Book Review: The Blood Berries by Erin Cole


I’m a fan of the Kate Waters mysteries by Erin Cole, and was intrigued to dip into her newest work, The Blood Berries. The short novel does not disappoint.

Here's the set-up. Set in 2105, off the coast of what was Alaska before global deglaciation, in an ambiguous future in which climate change has done its worst, a research vessel sets out to find evidence of what appears to be a new parasitic species that may be migrating across continents. The story opens just as a catastrophic storm has shipwrecked the team and pieces of their vessel on a remote uninhabited island. 

Initially, the members of the research team are simply relieved to make it safely to land. "Not having set foot on solid ground for some time, Sam forgot how massive land felt, how its gravity pulled at her, hooking a welcome are around bones as if letting her know she was back home. A stark contrast to the drifting weightlessness of the ocean," says our scientist-heroine Dr. Samantha Marks. 

They are confident that they will ultimately be found or will be able to repair their vessel. Still, despite the relief, Sam wrestles with regret and foreboding that she recklessly allowed her young son to join them on an expedition that has turned into a rescue mission. Still, the group seems o have the skills, collectively, to ensure their survive indefinitely on the deserted island, and thus decide to make constructive use of their time by continuing their scientific study while stranded. 

But then, one by one, as members of the team venture into the island's interior in search of food. shelter and evidence of the mysterious parasitic species, they don't return.

And thus begins a classic horror survival story, with the terrifying modern addition of exploring the implications on species adaptation to severe climate extremes. 

I don’t want to give the plot away, so suffice it to say that it takes an exceptionally talented writer to integrate maternal feelings, evolution and the concept of stepping stone species, climate change, botany and just a pinch of geology, all while staying rooted in the classic framework of horror.

The details of this story are what set it apart. For instance, watching as Sam struggles to make sense of maps drawn before the seas have overtaken Alaska and other regions, the geographic markers now underwater, rattled me in unexpected ways, forcing me to think concretely about the future of a warming world.

It’s the quiet ones that scare us the most and Cole’s style is oh-so-quiet and her prose oh-so-terrifingly clean. I highly recommend The Blood Berries.