Title: Red Hill
Author: Jamie McGuire
No. of Pages: 368
Genre: Horror, Romance
Origins: Atria Books
Release Date: 1 October 2013
Bottom Line: Terrifying and yet so poignant
“For Scarlet, raising her two daughters alone means fighting for tomorrow is an everyday battle. Nathan has a wife, but can’t remember what it’s like to be in love; only his young daughter Zoe makes coming home worthwhile. Miranda’s biggest concern is whether her new VW Bug is big enough to carry her sister and their boyfriends on a weekend escape from college finals.
When reports of a widespread, deadly “outbreak” begin to surface, these ordinary people face extraordinary circumstances and suddenly their fates are intertwined. Recognizing they can’t outrun the danger, Scarlet, Nathan, and Miranda desperately seek shelter at the same secluded ranch, Red Hill. Emotions run high while old and new relationships are tested in the face of a terrifying enemy–an enemy who no longer remembers what it’s like to be human.
Set against the backdrop of a brilliantly realized apocalyptic world, love somehow finds a way to survive. But what happens when the one you’d die for becomes the one who could destroy you?”
Thoughts: As overused as the premise of the walking dead has become lately, Jamie McGuire’s addition to the subgenre properly brings back the horror and adds a fascinating layer of realism that only increases one’s terror. Red Hill does not just scare its readers though. It explores the infinite bonds of love that exist even when the rest of the world seems to be disintegrating. The subtle sense of hope derived from the love story serves to counteract the fright created by Ms. McGuire’s supremely realistic world.
Ms. McGuire wisely steers clear of the science behind the mass infection and focuses on its aftermath. After all, the damage is done, and the band of survivors will not be able to change anything regardless of whether they knew or understood the cause. By zeroing in on the rapid decline into panic and eventual chaos, she heightens the psychological impact of the unfolding drama. More importantly, Red Hill concentrates on the mental torture it becomes to watch friends and family turn into these mindless monsters that terrorize their days and nights. The fear of death is one thing, but the fear of beloved’s death is quite another. Ms. McGuire skillfully captures the double agony and suffering of the survivors as they try vainly to protect their few remaining loved ones.
While the story is scary enough to make one sleep with the lights on, it is also the purest kind of love story. While romance abounds, as tends to happen in end-of-the-world scenarios, it is Scarlet’s unwavering love and dedication for her missing children that tugs on the heartstrings and causes more than one tear to fall. Her refusal to admit defeat, her insightfulness, stubbornness, intelligence, survival skills, and self-containment are not only admirable but also painful to behold because one instinctively knows just how fragile her façade truly is. The rest of the are just as strong, devoted, and fragile, invoking a reader’s protective tendencies and sympathies at everything they have to face.
Even though the story jumps between four narrators, Ms. McGuire achieves deep character development. This is in part accomplished by the first-person narrative, allowing readers close, firsthand insight into each character’s motivations and emotions. However, each character is also a careful observer. As their stories begin to intertwine and eventually collide, thanks to Ms. McGuire’s concise and effective descriptions readers have no problems recognizing certain scenes and making connections long before the narrators. The story falls into place seamlessly, and the process of it doing so is fascinating to watch unfold.
Ms. McGuire brilliantly captures the emotional trauma of a world in chaos and the everlasting bonds of love, making it an unusual but supremely fascinating and successful reading experience of needing all the lights on and curtains drawn as well as a box of tissues for the tears. Red Hill is an absolutely terrifying horror story and yet, it is also a heartfelt love story, one that adds a sense of hope to the bleakest of situations.