Review: The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

I watch a lot of documentary/lost footage-style horror movies. Some are great, some are ridiculous, some are just really poorly done. The Lost Village is a book I’d LOVE to see turned into a movie, because it was deliciously creepy.

In 1959, police arrive to the remote Swedish mining village of Silvertjärn to horrific scene. A single rotting body in the square, an abandoned newborn in the nurse’s office of the school, and not a single remaining soul to be found. 900 people, disappeared without a trace. Sixty years later, Alice, granddaughter of one of the last people to legitimately leave Silvertjärn, returns with a small film crew. Her mission, after researching her grandmother’s lifetime of notes and stories, is to shoot compelling enough footage to get a Kickstarter going for a full fledged documentary on the mysterious disappearance of the villagers. But there’s something disconcerting about the abandoned rotting homes and silent streets, and Alice’s plans are upended when the party becomes more and more convinced they aren’t alone.

The story flashes between Alice and her crew in the “Now” chapters, and the events leading up to the disappearance in August 1959 in the “Then” chapters. Camilla Sten weaves the two timelines together in parallel for the reader, and deftly hits the climactic timing for both storylines. Sten explores multiple levels of Nordic atmospheric horror and leaves the reader unsure if there’s something supernatural or earthly going on, but in either case it has terrible consequences for the “Now” and “Then” characters. The true terror comes from her detailed exploration of the progression of a cult mentality, which left me lying awake more than one night the the last week.

Sten’s writing style is fast paced, poetically beautiful, and occasionally brutal. She has a gift for just the right amount of detail without being overly-flowery and never getting bogged down. I was somewhat jarred by one of the subplots, which seemed unnecessary since the relationships between Alice and her crew/friends was already fraught with tension due to past conflicts. The “Now” chapters are told from Alice’s limited point of view, and she is presented as being rather driven and empathetic to her friend Tone’s past, so a subplot in which she’s caught completely off guard by blatant interest pulled me out of the story a little. I will admit to being tired of the “friendzone” trope, so it’s possible I’m a little biased here. It doesn’t stop me from recommending the book.

The Lost Village is a fast and suspenseful read, perfect for summer escapism. If I had a star system I’d give it a solid 4 out of 5, and recommend it to anyone who loves lost-footage mysteries or Nordic murder tales.

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