Book Review: The Pandora Room by Christopher Golden

The Pandora Room

Christopher Golden

April 23, 2019

The Pandora Room from New York Times bestselling and Bram Stoker Award-winning author Christopher Golden turns ancient lore into a modern-day horror in a variation on the myth of Pandora’s Box, where there were two boxes: one contained blessings of the gods, the other all the world’s curses…

One week before closing up shop in Northern Iraq, archaeologist Sophie Durand makes the discovery of her lifetime. Deep in the subterranean city Sophie and her team were exploring, she finds a hidden room covered in ancient symbols and containing a jar. When the team translates the symbols, the story they read is familiar: the Greek myth of Pandora. However, this room is much older and so is the story.

In this variation of the Pandora’s Box tale, there are two boxes—or jars—one given to Pandora and the other given to her sister Anesidora. One jar contains all the gifts destined for mankind. The other contains all the curses… Now, Sophie needs to figure out which jar she’d discovered, before the jihadi forces closing in on her dig site unleash whatever is inside.

The Pandora Room by award-winning author Christopher Golden is a sequel to the bestselling Ararat. Featuring one of the main characters from that novel, Ben Walker (an expert in the strange), The Pandora Room explores what happens when the stories we all grew up with turn out to be true.

Sophie makes the questionable decision to climb through the hole they’ve created in an unstable wall. It’s the first of many questionable decisions…

Sophie is already in charge of one of the greatest archaeological digs in history: excavating the underground city of Derveyî (the Kurdish for “beneath”), when she finds the hidden chamber containing the mysterious jar. The team is starting to pack up and head for their individual universities when the room is discovered by an accidental swing of a hammer. Because time is of the essence and because the ancients did not create secret chambers for no reason, Sophie makes the questionable decision to climb through the hole they’ve created in an unstable wall. It’s the first of many questionable decisions…

Sophie stood in front of the hole in the wall. She put her hand on the crumbling edge of the hole and peered at the large rocks that had been used to construct the barrier. With her back to the team, she inhaled deeply of the dust and age of the earthen chamber around her.

 

How many conversations had they had about the sort of worship that had gone on in this room? A hundred, at least. The world around them existed in a constant state of crisis, a global turmoil that seemed only to worsen by the day, but down here, in this subterranean warren, a place where people had lived and thrived and loved and prayed – all underground – secrets of the past had been unveiled. Further mysteries awaited them, but what Sophie loved most about those mysteries were that they were – in this case quite literally – set in stone. The past awaited their discovery, but it held no dangers. No peril, only fascination.

 

Yes, it might still surprise them. But it wouldn’t disappoint them, and it couldn’t kill them.

But when you make the find of a lifetime, you don’t get to keep it to yourself, as Sophie quickly learns. Ben Walker, who has seen some things in his line of work, is called in to evaluate and secure the jar, whether Sophie wants to cooperate or not.

During the political navigations between Sophie, Walker, and various government entities, the jar is damaged.

Walker was pulled away from a potentially biohazardous expedition in Greenland to take care of the jar—which turns out to have far more biohazardous consequences than anything Greenland’s melting tundra has to offer.

Golden does not shy away from delivering some gruesome details. He definitely delivers on making pre-biblical plagues something to fear:

She saw the rash when she removed his shirt. Angry red, raised blisters ran from the center of his chest along his left side. There were some on his left arm as well. Even with the hazmat suit protecting her, she wanted to rush from the room. Dr. Tang had seen disease and plague, viruses of all kinds, but nobody in her field enjoyed being in the presence of the unknown…

 

His groin and thighs also showed the rash, and there were bruises on his legs she could not explain, but it was when she pulled up his right eyelid that Dr. Tang felt the deepest dread. Both eyes had a red hue, and a bit of blood had pooled in the corner of the right one. She’d helped to fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa, and memories of those nightmarish days surged in her mind now. This wasn’t the same, but the rash and the red eyes were familiar enough to haunt her.

To complicate an already complicated situation, a jihadi military force tries to infiltrate the dig site, determined to kill whoever gets in their way.  While bullets fly over the underground city, the men and women trapped below fight to survive a plague no one has seen for centuries.  

The Pandora Room is a worthy follow-up to Ararat—however, it’s not necessary to read Ararat before The Pandora Room. Christopher Golden does a good job establishing both new interactions and revealing previous relationships. The horrors inflicted on the characters, both supernatural and natural, are visceral and real. When you look up from turning pages, probably sometime late at night, you’ll be happy that you’re safe at home. 

See also: Review of Ararat by Christopher Golden

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