Audiobook Review: The Pandora Room by Christopher Golden
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Series: Book 2 of Ben Walker
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (April 23, 2019)
Length: 11 hrs and 41 mins
Narrator: Amber Benson
Well, unfortunately this one didn’t really work for me. While I wasn’t completely blown away by Ararat, when I saw that it had a quasi-sequel called The Pandora Room coming out, I thought I might give Christopher Golden and this world another try. Sad to say though, I think I ended up even less taken with this new installment.
And it’s a pity, because I thought the book’s description sounded so intriguing. Just days before packing it in on her dig site in Northern Iraq, archaeologist Sophie Durand makes a stunning discovery in the underground city her expedition has been in the process of excavating. Uncovered in a hidden chamber, an ancient jar may hold the secrets to the origin of Pandora’s Box, the mythological vessel that is said to have unleashed all the sickness, evil, and death upon the world. As the news of this discovery spread, governments around the world are taking notice, given the artifact’s provenance. Once again, this is where Ben Walker enters the picture. Disguised as a representative of the National Science Foundation, he is in fact a secret DARPA agent who is dispatched to the region in order to investigate Sophie and her team’s find.
At first, his role seemed pretty straightforward—ensure that all protocols are followed properly in the jar’s containment process, and then somehow extract the artifact on behalf of his employers for further study. However, not long after his arrival, political instability and insurgents in the region swiftly put an end to those plans. Worse, following a procedural breach by a rogue researcher, it appears contamination has occurred when several of the team members are sickened by an unknown pathogen. Trapped in the haunted underground labyrinthine city surrounded by armed terrorists and a quarantine, Ben Walker finds himself in yet another fight for his life.
With such an incredible premise, I was surprised to find The Pandora Room disappointingly lacking in both the action and thrills department, especially in the first half of the book. While listening to this in audio, I actually found myself struggling not to fall asleep! Part of the reason for this is the slow setup; there are a ton of characters to establish at the dig site, and Ben Walker himself doesn’t show up until later. I’m also not sure why the story needed such a long introduction to get started, but the beginning was definitely bogged down by a ton of extraneous detail about the political situation in the region as well as a whole lot of character background information that could have waited until later. Then there was the handwringing and bureaucratic nonsense about what to do with the jar when, in another couple of chapters, it all turned out to be moot anyway.
Thankfully, the pacing improved significantly following the “Oh shit!” moment that finally got the ball rolling on this paranormal thriller. When it turns out the seal on the jar has been cracked, several people start exhibiting signs of an unknown and quite possibly pre-biblical plague. My hat’s off to Golden, at least he knows how to ramp up the suspense by including in his descriptions of the victims a wide assortment of terrifying and gruesome symptoms. And then there are the jihadi military forces on Sophie and Ben’s doorstep, trying to infiltrate the archeological dig site and kill everyone within. Some of the sick have also started reporting hallucinations, claiming to hear and see things that shouldn’t be possible or don’t make sense. But are these just more signs of the mysterious illness, or are there in fact preternatural elements at play here? Like my thoughts on Ararat, I just loved the resulting vibes of uncertainty and the overall feeling of claustrophobia.
Still, while I enjoyed these horror aspects, I just didn’t think there were enough. The plot struggled to maintain its momentum and hence my interest, and with the exception of Ben Walker, none of the other characters were really that engaging or likeable. At times, the book also seemed confused as to whether it wanted to a paranormal horror or an action thriller, and ultimately this whole wishy-washy not-quite-sure-how-to-fulfill-either goal scenario simply didn’t work for me at all.
In sum, The Pandora Room had potential, but it ended up falling short of expectations. What could have been an atmospheric and slow-burn chiller became more or less a pedestrian action-adventure novel sprinkled here and there with supernatural elements. Sure, it wasn’t all bad, but there’s not much I found too memorable about this one either. Hence an ambivalent 2.5 rating when it comes to this one.
Audiobook Comments: It probably wasn’t for the lack of trying, but not even Amber Benson, a great actress and normally an effective narrator, could save this one for me. I’ve listened to and enjoyed a few of her audiobook performances in the past, but for some reason things didn’t quite click this time. She didn’t even really sound like herself, though granted that could have been caused by the writing style.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Ararat (Book 1)