So I just finished reading The Three by Sarah Lotz and it was nice to read a really good creepy story again. I spent much of my youth reading Stephen King novels and The Three actually comes with a recommendation from the Master of Horror himself. And for good reason, The Three is a fantastic, well-executed high-concept thriller that will shock and entertain for its 400-so pages.
The Three details the events that follow a very unnatural disaster. Four commercial planes crash within hours of each other across the globe killing almost everyone onboard. From these four crashes, there are only four survivors. Three are young children and one, a woman, dies on her way to the hospital, just after she records a final message to the world. In it, she starts talking of ghosts with no feet and how the young boy who survived her crash was not who he said he was.
This kick-starts a global thriller which is told through the form of an in-narrative book called From Crash to Conspiracy. The events of Black Thursday, the day the planes went down, are reported by Elspeth Martins, the non-fiction writer, who has collected various accounts, interviews, Skype conversations, and newspaper articles to tell the story of The Three – Jessica, Bobby and Hiro, the three children who survived and who begin to start acting very strangely indeed.
The fact the story was told this way did initially put me off, but by the end of the first part I was totally onboard. The way Lotz writes all the different sections of the novel feels incredibly genuine and the fact that we are reading an expose of what happened is so immersive that sometimes it’s a little hard to believe that it didn’t actually happen. There are an absurd amount of viewpoints in this novel (as Martins collects eyewitness reports and elaborates on interviews), and while a few of them feel a little unnecessary, most of them hit the mark perfectly.
The three children are very quickly the centre of the entire world’s attention, as a religious uproar begins over their survival heralding the end of the world. Lotz does a lot of world-building, fleshing out every side of the conflict as the world begins to break into sides. And when the kids start-a-creeping, you’ll feel compelled to pick a side too.
The novel is definitely at its best when the children take centre stage, and a small criticism is that I felt there could have been more of that. As the novel progresses, Lotz seems far more interested in the religious and political conflicts than The Three themselves, and although they are still there, in the background, acting weird, it would have been nice to have a few more big moments with them. There are definitely big moments already – a few that really made me shiver (which I won’t spoil here) – but it is light on the actual scares.
Towards the end of The Three, I was starting to think that the conflicts had taken over and the actual mystery of The Three would remain ambiguous, but Lotz seems to walk the line of ambiguity and revelation rather strangely. There is an end-game secret to be told, but it isn’t really delved into enough to feel ultimately satisfying. Ambiguity or straight-up telling us what was actually going on are both fine ways to go, but I felt the end of The Three fell somewhere in the middle. I finished the novel and turned the page expecting another one but that was it. I think this is probably something I’ll look back a bit more favourably on in time, but right now, it felt like a lot of build-up for a minimal pay-off.
However, despite these gripes (which are small, although I’ve spent a while on them), I have no reservations about recommending The Three. The journey, and especially the execution, were so fantastic I went out and bought Sarah Lotz’s next book before I was even halfway through. There is an incredible confidence in Lotz’s writing which is utterly bewitching, that will make you believe in a harsher and scarier world.
The Three is an incredibly accomplished high-concept thriller that will likely stay with you after the final page. Sarah Lotz does a commendable job building a world shrouded in fear and doubt, as three children become the centre of a religious conspiracy. Although sometimes the narrative feels interested in the wrong things and it doesn’t quite stick the landing, The Three is pitch-perfect in almost every other facet. For anyone who enjoys a good chiller, it’s a must.
THE THREE by SARAH LOTZ