That’s my sole assessment of how rarely I see this novel cited by horror fans.
Jeff Long’s modern take on the Verne-esque hollow Earth subgenre of science fiction seems to bear more resemblance to a contemporary Divine Comedy, where Hell is portrayed not as a metaphorical, supernatural, or intangible realm, but one lying in wait right beneath our feet – one made of rock, chains, and creatures.
I challenge you to read the opening chapter of The Descent and set the book down, never again to return to it. It cannot be done, not if you appreciate the ‘that-which-should-not-be-seen-by-man’ stylings of Lovecraft, or literature’s answer to Cronenbergian body horror by way of Barker, or simply a masterful demonstration of how an author can present to you an irresistibly loaded fishing hook. The fishing hook is obvious. We see that we are being baited, but we must bite down. And what a joy it is to bite.
Look, I can’t say whether you should listen to me or the fairly substantial array of written criticisms of the novel. Maybe you should listen to that yawning expanse of nothing, the book’s near-total lack of mention in the relevant arenas perhaps foreshadowing an empty ride.
I say: listen to none of the above.
Listen only to your curiosity.
What cold-blooded, black-hearted horror lover couldn’t ache with curiosity over a race of aeons-old cave dwelling creatures, lurking beneath the feet of mankind for hundreds of thousands of years, in caverns and chambers and tunnel systems so expansive, so deep that they sprawl below even the deepest recesses of the oceans, harbouring pits leading deeper still, pits of which even these creatures fear.
Risen and fallen civilisations, silent influence over the unfolding of humankind, enslavement of those unfortunate enough to discover how deep the hollows of the earth reach – and one man. A ruler. An influencer. A legend. Except this legend is flesh and blood, real as the gold rings brutally locked in place through the flesh and bone of His prisoners’ lower jaws to keep them chained, leashed, and a perverted combination of both enslaved and loving.
Yeah, the clue’s in the ‘His’. This book is about the hunt for Satan.
So listen to your curiosity. Read the one book I’ve ever read that I can confidently rank alongside the masterpiece that is Frankenstein. This is my joint favourite novel of all time. Help me fill that yawning expanse, that absence of praise for this epic, biblical, maelstrom of horror.
Read The Descent.
p.s. As with Frankenstein, it’s my intention to eventually get round to writing a more comprehensive piece on The Descent. Follow me on the social media of your choice via the contact page to stay in the loop.