REVIEW: “Better You Believe” by Carole Johnstone

Review of Carole Johnstone, “Better You Believe”, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books, 2018): 1—19. Purchase Here. Originally published in Horror Library Volume 6, edited by Eric G. Guignard (Cutting Block Books, 2017). Purchase Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis.

Expectations are always high from the opening story of a horror anthology, especially one of Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year anthologies. This year opens with Carole Johnstone’s “Better You Believe”, originally published in Horror Library Volume 6, edited by Eric G. Guignard. It’s a ‘wilderness’ horror, charting the literal, physical and mental descent of the protagonist (Sarah) as she makes her way down a mountain in the Annapurna Massif after bad weather has come in, separated (at least initially) from the rest of her group. A series of Bad Things occur, but her love for her boyfriend Nick keeps her going while the body count mounts.

It’s a great story, ramping up the dread and emphasising the terrible indifference of nature and the violence it inflicts, as we begin to suspect that Nick may not quite be the stand-up guy Sarah thinks he is (or is he?), and some interesting group dynamics are revealed. The author makes it easy for the reader to care for Sarah and really want her to come through. While reading the story I was a little niggled by the relative ease with which Sarah manages to extricate herself from some of the Bad Things that happen, and the tendency for her to be seemingly on the verge of physical/mental/emotional collapse one moment, and then able to hang on for several hours before coming to the verge of collapse again, in what seems an endless struggle. But the twist at the end resolved that for me and although it’s not hugely original, I’m happy to say that I didn’t see it coming and so had to re-read the story to admire all the misdirection.

Overall this was a really strong start to the anthology and an evocatively written, refreshing and truly disturbing story that has reinforced my desire never to climb anything larger than a small knoll. Real wilderness – of which surely mountains are one of the few remaining examples – can be terrifying for a reason.