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The Pandora Room


The Pandora Room

Adventure. Fantasy. Graphic novels. Horror. Science fiction. Thriller. YA. These are the categories that Christopher Golden has not only written in but conquered. He is a prolific author with well over 100 novels, short stories, graphic novels and edited collections to his credit. He also is the owner of the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for outstanding work in the horror field. If you do not know his name, I urge you to seek out his work in any of these genres. I guarantee you will walk away impressed.

Golden's latest effort, THE PANDORA ROOM, is the follow-up to his terrific novel from 2017, ARARAT. These books are classified as supernatural thrillers, but are based on a foundation of ancient history and fable that he reworks into a potential end-of-the-world scenario that makes for pulse-pounding reads.

The fable we know about Pandora's box talks about the two boxes from which she had to choose --- one that contained miracles and blessings, the other curses. What we learn about this mythical story in THE PANDORA ROOM begins with the fact that the translation of it literally refers to a jar instead of a box. When a team of explorers finds the underground room where what appears to be Pandora's jar is housed, the question is whether it contains gifts they would not be prepared to use, or all the curses of humanity.

"I can only hope that we see more of Ben Walker in this new series, but based on the wild ending of THE PANDORA ROOM, that remains to be seen."

Those who are not ready to deal with whatever is inside the jar will be cursed to the same fate as all who came before throughout the centuries. It begins with archaeologist Sophie Durand locating the site of Derveyî, the subterranean city made up of tunnels and caves, located in Northern Iraq in the town of Amadiya. Sophie is weakened from a recent battle with cancer, but she will not let anything stop her in her search for an item that had long been considered merely an object of fantasy from an ancient fable. She calls her funded research the Beneath Project and is accompanied by a small team of scholars, scientists and armed guards. The guards are there to prevent the locals from realizing the project’s mission and attacking them in an effort to either destroy Pandora's jar or claim it for use against their enemies.

They find what appears to be a room --- soon referred to as the Pandora Room --- where there is cuneiform writing all over the walls. One of the team’s scholars, Lamar Curtis, climbs inside to interpret the centuries-old language. An entrance is built for easier access, and the fact that one lone jar is found makes their speculations now feel real. Ben Walker is frustrated when he is taken off a mission in the Arctic and sent to Iraq along with his partner/lover, Seong Kim, to assist the Beneath Project. Walker was seen in ARARAT and is a self-proclaimed expert on “weird s**t.” Kim is to be the new leader of the project, operating under the sanctions of the United Nations.

When Walker and Kim arrive, they learn that six people had been inside the Pandora Room up to that point. Walker also spends some time with the local U.S. Army troop that is stationed outside the entry to the Derveyî caves. Being around military men like Dunlap and Cobb informs him that their biggest threat is a terrorist group similar to ISIS that calls itself the New Caliphate. The military has no idea of its actual size; if it’s too large, they might not be able to prevent it from getting into Derveyî and killing and destroying everyone and everything in sight.

It is at this juncture that the supernatural part of our story takes hold. Everyone who has touched the ceremonial Pandora’s jar or entered the Pandora Room are now cursed with a sort of plague that is causing large rashes and bleeding lesions to infest their bodies. But that is not the worst part. Those who are sickest are haunted by ghosts or manifestations of what look like ancient people all committing atrocities on themselves and each other. It is only when these manifestations fully enter a living host that things really get interesting. Meanwhile, a major battle has begun outside that will give readers a huge feeling of claustrophobia. Is it better to be outside fighting or trapped below in the house of horrors that Derveyî has become?

Most of the team is wiped out, and we are left with six members who think they have found a way out. They are all infected and wearing hazmat suits as they follow underground caverns to a river that may take them to safety. The group is also carrying Pandora’s jar with them while they are being pursued through their tunnels by the enemy horde who has obviously triumphed above ground. These passages are highly suspenseful as you literally have no idea what is happening --- or if the narrators telling the story are painting a realistic picture or merely describing what their plague-addled minds are showing them. The novel’s conclusion is equally unsettling and most definitely will produce some shudders.

For those wanting to read more from Christopher Golden, I recommend his Shadow Saga series, one of the best modern takes on vampires I've ever read. Disney fans (like myself) should check out his dark version of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, STRAIGHT ON 'TIL MORNING. I can only hope that we see more of Ben Walker in this new series, but based on the wild ending of THE PANDORA ROOM, that remains to be seen.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 26, 2019

The Pandora Room
by Christopher Golden