The Descent is many things: adventurous, scary, philosophical, religious, and hopeful. At the same time, it can be a little slow, a little depressing, and sometimes predictable.
The narrative begins with several related stories, set all over the world. A group of climbers are stranded in a cave after a surprise snowstorm… A nun stationed in Africa discovers a proto-human species and hears whisperings of a being called Older-Than-Old… In Bosnia, something is stealing massacred bodies from mass graves…
… all with grisly results.
It is soon discovered that humans are not alone on Earth – that is, that humans may not be the dominant species for much longer. In fact, there is a massive underground system deep under the crust of the planet, developed by human-like creatures over millions of years. They are rarely seen, but are vicious. The few people who have escaped from their clutches are irreparably harmed, both physically and psychologically.
There have been sightings of these creatures over the centuries, but they soon begin to journey to the surface more often than ever before. Given the scientific name Homo hadalis and nicknamed “hadals,” the world is soon forced to accept the fact that humans are not alone. The idea that aliens would come from below rather than above is shocking.
The story focuses on several main characters, or groups of characters. Some are seeking Satan – not just pure evil, but an actual, embodied King of Hell. Armed with the belief that “He” exists, then it’s only natural that he can be destroyed.
Additionally, some are looking to conquer this underworld and make it a military stronghold (because of course they are). Scientists are hoping to discover new plants, animals, insects, and resources. And one woman is attempting to pinpoint the beginning of language.
Lastly, the hadals. What do they seek?
With so many variables and storylines, one might think that The Descent is just too much. Luckily, Long weaves these stories simultaneously, allowing his characters to grow from their predetermined “identities” into so much more. The differences between the humans and hadals seem immense at first, but seem to diminish as the novel progresses. Long’s grasp of the human condition is eerily accurate, which is also a little depressing, to be honest.
The Descent is a good book. It’s not great, and that’s mainly because of long periods of nothing happening. But it was very different from books I normally read, so it was fairly refreshing for me. It has something for everyone at some point (adventure, horror, romance, philosophic wonderment, etc.), but that might not be enough to get through the whole thing.
**I don’t know if this novel was an inspiration for the film of the same name, because I haven’t seen it, but there are many similarities in the plots (or at least, from what I read at imdb).**