Book Review: The Lost Village by Camilla Sten
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: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Minotaur Books (March 23, 2021)
Length: 340 pages
Author Information: Website
The Lost Village is a horror suspense novel following an amateur film crew hoping to make a documentary on the mysterious fate of Silvertjarn, a small Swedish mining town in the late 50’s which saw its entire population of about 900 disappear overnight. Only a newborn baby was found left behind in the schoolhouse, her parents unknown.
Now in the present day, a group of young filmmakers are hoping to travel to the village and discover the truth of what happened. As their leader, Alice has a vested interest in the project, and not only because she has already spent much of the funding that was poured into this documentary and needs it to succeed. Silvertjarn was also the hometown of her grandmother, who lost her parents and beloved little sister when everyone disappeared. Alice’s connection to the village had also led her to befriend Tone, the miracle baby that was found, now all grown up and hoping to tag along and uncover her mysterious origins.
Also part of the team is Alice’s good friend Max, who had done quite well for himself after college, and is now a major financial backer of the film. As well, Alice was forced to hire another one of her old contacts from film school, her once best friend Emmy. Following their epic falling out, things were never quite the same between the two women, but Alice needed a production manager and for some reason Emmy was willing to work for her and bring along her partner Robert, an experienced technician. The two of them also didn’t mind taking a pay cut, which was a big plus, since money was tight.
Alice hopes that she will find something in Silvertjarn to make her documentary a hit and launch her career. But when the five of them arrive at the lost village, nothing goes as planned. One of them suffers a serious injury, jeopardizing their whole schedule. Then there are the strange noises, and the glimpses of a stranger among the broken rundown houses. But surely there can’t be anyone else in these woods but them?
The Lost Village is being pitched as The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar, presumably because of the filmmaking angle and the Swedish setting, respectively. But what it really is something entirely different and on its own. I will say that the book was thoroughly enjoyable, even though it was not without its flaws. It is slow-moving, for one, at least at the beginning, but the mood-building and story development was excellent. The plot unfolds via two timelines, one in the present following our movie crew, and one in the past, which is revealed to us gradually through letters and journal entries written by the close relatives of Alice’s grandmother.
I especially enjoyed these flashback sections to the past, showing us what life in Silvertjarn was like before everyone disappeared, including the devastating closure of the local mine which led to many of its residents moving away to find new work. Some of those who stayed became depressed or turned to drink. For the most part though, this was a tight knit community that supported each other through tough times. But then came the arrival of a mysterious and charismatic new pastor, who changes the fate of the village forever.
Given all that transpires in the past, it’s no wonder I found that timeline more enticing. In fact, one of the criticisms I have is that for about three quarters of the book, much of the present timeline feels uneventful and dull in comparison. When Alice and her team arrive in Silvertjarn, they find a whole lot of nothing. This quiet, eerie and lonely atmosphere was effective only up to a point, however, as tensions around the camp quickly devolve into incessant bickering and handwringing. For a film crew, they also don’t seem to do much or know anything about filmmaking. Granted, this could be due to the problems they run into, but with all these concerns about their limited time, you’d think these characters would have more agency.
Fortunately, the pacing picks up dramatically the closer we get to the ending, as more shocking developments occur in the present and horrible revelations also come to light in the past. The ending could have gone in a number of possible directions, but I thought things came together in the best way they could have. Overall, despite some pacing issues and unevenness in the interest generated between its two timelines, The Lost Village was a good read, for it made up for its minor shortcomings with an intriguing hook and great atmosphere.