Title: The Toll.
Writer(s): Cherie Priest.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Format: Advance Review Copy.
Release Date: July 9th 2019.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
There’s nothing like finding yourself in the middle of nowhere with no resources at your disposition to re-establish a certain feeling of security in your environment. It is even more tedious when the answers you need aren’t the ones you get. Confronted with the impossible, it is in our nature to grasp onto logical explanations to remain as sane as possible but the more it becomes impossible, the more likely you are to abandon reason and believe the improbable. Author of The Family Plot and Maplecroft, Cherie Priest delivers a brand-new horror story where nothing seems likely but everything seems possible.
What is The Toll about? Titus Bell is off with his wife on an unconventional honeymoon deep in the Okefenokee Swamp cabins with plans of canoeing and camping to cement their love for each other. Despite their reticence, the thrill of escaping their regular city lives to get lost among wild creatures and dangerous vegetation brings them to stumble upon mysteries that were better off left alone. It’s when the road they take to reach the village narrows into a lone and rickety bridge that their lives hit a brick wall and become much more complicated. Upon crossing the bridge, Titus finds himself waking up alone, lying on the ground, with her wife missing, and no answers to appease his soul. It doesn’t help when the bridge he encountered is also inexistent to the knowledge of all.
With the story taking place on just a couple of days with the disappearance of the protagonist’s wife as the driving force of the narrative, Cherie Priest does a fantastic job in keeping the reader hooked with surreal intrigue that continuously haunts the reader. While it often feels like nothing is moving forward, there’s always an uncertain sensation that crawls underneath you, giving you the impression that trouble is just hiding within the bushes. How she develops her little town’s atmospheric and dark ambiance helps the reader immerse themselves into the story and quickly establishes the history of the swamps and the story of the suspicious villagers who roam around it.
The narrative also lurks from one point of view to another to offer different perspectives on the unfolding of events. This approach allows the reader to understand that the motivations of all the characters aren’t necessarily the same and that there is so much more going on than what the protagonist could grasp. What turned out to be a wonderful surprise was also the character development that went along with each point of view as it solidified the despair and descent into madness of some individuals. It’s by playing around with modern issues lived by humans that the story was able to assert itself within some realism while incorporating the paranormal elements seamlessly into the narrative.
The Toll is an atmospheric and thrilling Southern gothic horror story that cleverly reels you into a little village with secrets far more dangerous than the predators of their swamps.
Thank you to Raincoast Canada and Tor Books for sending me a copy for review!