The Watchers: woodland Gothic horror goes at a cracking pace | Review

Heavily vignetted forest scene.

You can’t see them, but they can see you. But how long until the watchers stop looking … and start devouring?

A.M Shine’s debut novel, The Watchers, is horrific all the right reasons.

Mina is a loner. Well, she’s an artist, but she also works in a casino in Galway city, Ireland to pay the bills. She’s lost in grief after losing her mother; her sister has no patience for her. Then a guy in the pub asks for a favour. All she has to do is deliver a pet bird to a buyer in Connemara.

It’s a simple job – until her car breaks down. With not a living soul for miles, there’s nothing for it but to get out and cross the woods on foot. When Mina stumbles across a cabin hidden deep among the trees she has no idea it will become her refuge … and prison.

There are already three, starving people living in the cabin: Danny, Ciara and Madeline. The old woman, Madeline, is hard to like, but she’s also the one keeping them all alive. Strange creatures prowl the forest, like nothing you’ve ever seen – or heard – before.

These watchers come out at night to observe the humans in their glass-fronted shack. The cabin’s bright lights, and Madeline’s survival skills, are the only things keeping them at bay until morning. But with no food, and the cabin falling into disrepair, how long can the humans hold out?

“The screams came from just outside, from the darkness where only moments ago she had run towards the light. She looked to the many locks – some bolted, others mere chains – that stood between them and whatever had overrun the woodland.”

The Watchers

Fast-paced and frenetic, Shine’s brooding woodland Gothic is a cracking page-turner.

One to watch

The Watchers has made an impression since its 2021 release. It’s already been snapped up for cinema, with a film adaptation is pegged for June 2024. Dakota Fanning is set to play Mina, with Ishana Night Shyamalan making her feature directorial debut.

Time will tell whether Shyamalan draws on the speculative horror leanings of dad M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs). Either way, The Watchers comes pre-loaded with cinematic potential: a claustrophobic cabin, blood-thirsty creatures, and a race against time.

It’ll be particularly exciting to see the book’s female-dominated plot and the no-nonsense leader Madeline – an older woman, no less – realised on screen. Given the recent surge of films with stronger roles for women (Barbie, The Dial of Destiny), that feels pretty timely.

There are parallels with creature classics such as I Am Legend (and another that I can’t mention as it might unintentionally reveal a huge spoiler). This isn’t to say The Watchers is derivative, but that it has the same energy and inventiveness. If you enjoy the novels of Richard Matheson, this may appeal, too.

Shine’s creatures are cleverly not over-described – though their ‘big reveal’ may be a bit of a curve ball. However, it leads into a dark, menacing fable that’s hard to put down.

The Watchers isn’t frightening or gory, but still oozes terrific tension and intrigue. I finished the book in a day, practically inhaling the sense of the second half rather than lingering over the words.

Perhaps the best testament is that there’s a really obvious twist which you can see coming for much of the story, only for the plot to pull the rug in the last third. Delightfully Fiendish.

The Watchers, by A. M Shine

Quoted edition published by Head of Zeus, 2021

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Picture credit: Eric Hammett