This book scores some points right out of the starting gate for having a tried and true "Cabin in the Woods" horror story premise with a completely original monster that's equal parts creative, terrifying and interesting. The suspense is further strengthened by a well-thought-out backstory involving a single surviving child from a scattering of disappearances over several decades and the worn-down but noble small-town cop who's been around long enough to put the pieces together. It's a recipe we're familiar with, but with a touch of spice that makes us horror fans remember why we love returning to these types of stories.
The scene is set, but almost immediately the other foot drops. The author chooses to include two five-year-old characters who are occasionally cute-ish at best, but infuriatingly annoying more often than not. Six or seven times during the story they have predictably childish and pointless arguments or tantrums that slows everything down and made me lament for the bliss other books when you don't realize how lucky you are that all the characters are adults or close enough, and you don't get distracted by meaningless discussions that detract from the plot, seemingly there to make the reader relate to their own potential kids and the joys of parenting. Doubtless, the author also did this to add a kind of real-world cutesy charm to the family and raise the stakes, making us feel even more worried for them, or making us feel more sympathy. But he takes it one step further, at numerous points in the book, making the children the center of the action and witnessing events from their perspective rather than just making them side characters. I felt this choice was entirely unnecessary.
I admit the whole, "they're not actually siblings and are forced to bond as their respective parents feel out the potential for their new relationship when tragedy hits", angle was well done, and it adds an additional layer to the family's dynamic, and there's the very real dilemma that's boldly tackled head-on when the adults have to individually confront the issue of choosing to save their partner's kid over their own. I admire how that was addressed by the author with such a bleak, unflinching reality.
There are a few narrative, continuity inconsistencies which made me wonder if the editors eyeballed a few chapters, and there was a subplot about whether the monster was smart enough to anticipate what they were thinking, and even evidence to prove it, that was abruptly dropped, just to be revealed at the end that the monster was incapable of such thought all along, leaving us to believe that the one instance of insane and gruesome revelation was completely random and pointless.
There came a point that felt like the perfect ending that would have smoothly transitioned into an epilogue that wrapped things up nicely, but shortly after a second climax is added which brought with it a bit of glorious violence and a sense of vindication, but ultimately felt forced and unnecessary. It then transitions into a kind of flat, unsatisfying ending that leaves a feeling of "we're just going to ignore that all that just happened?"
I mean, the evidence that it wasn't just a lone madman, as it was implied to be resolved as, would have been overwhelming and obvious at the final crime scene long before the scientists arrived.
A real mixed bag here. Great monster, great tension, lots of terror and blood, but wow, did the antics and padding with the children drag its quality down for me. They were too irritating for my taste. Maybe I just don't have enough tolerance for children and their near-constant badgering and chattering.