5 star, adult

ARC Review: Breathless by Amy McCulloch

A high-altitude thriller that will take your breath away–Cecily Wong is on her most dangerous climb yet, miles above sea level. But the elements are nothing compared to one chilling truth: There’s a killer on the mountain.

Journalist Cecily Wong is in over her head. She’s come to Manaslu, the eighth-highest peak in the world, to interview internationally famous mountaineer Charles McVeigh on the last leg of a record-breaking series of summits. She’s given up everything for this story–her boyfriend, her life savings, the peace she’s made with her climbing failures in the past–but it’s a career-making opportunity. It could finally put her life back on track.

But when one climber dies in what everyone else assumes is a freak accident, she fears their expedition is in danger. And by the time a second climber dies, it’s too late to turn back. Stranded on a mountain in one of the most remote regions of the world, she’ll have to battle more than the elements in a harrowing fight for survival against a killer who is picking them off one by one.



**Breathless comes out May 3, 2022**

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

‘There’s a murderer on the mountain. Run.’

Breathless quite literally lives up to its name in this spellbinding story that had me gripped from the moment. Equal parts exhilarating and knowledge seeking, I was thrilled with the tension and mystery as the author intended, but I also learned so much about mountain climbing that I lived these experiences almost vicariously through these characters.

Cecily Wong is part of an exclusive team assembled to climb the last of the 14 mountains greater than eight-thousand-metres above sea level, Manaslu, alongside the legendary mountaineer Charles McVeigh. Unfortunately, she feels she has so much to prove to him (and the rest of the very experienced team) because she’s known as the girl who could NOT summit even a smaller mountain. But getting to exclusively interview Charles on the condition she summits is the chance of a lifetime and everyone plus their mother knows that.

I love Cecily’s perspective throughout this whole book. She’s a rather newbie climber so the logistics and extensive training that comes with mountain climbing is explained in the book for us who have no idea what this world is like. However, I don’t feel it’s too technical and boring at these parts because it’s so ingrained into what is happening in the story. The team requires acclimatization at higher altitudes before they can climb so high so of course, we follow that journey with them. It’s never an overload of information and everything is potentially relevant.

Besides the newbie perspective, Cecily is an empathetic protagonist because she sees people with a less detached attitude. Perhaps it’s because she’s yet to really experience the life and death moments in a place literally called “the death zone” like her fellow experienced climbers. But in this way, her heart and journalistic instinct leads her down a path that may be hold more secrets than she’s prepared to find.

Most importantly, the pacing was fantastic! I never felt bored as the team moved their way up the mountain. The first death occurs not too far into the book so it really sets the tone – is there something more to this death or is it her paranoia? In low oxygen atmospheres, it’s even a possibility hallucinations run rampant so we’re left questioning Cecily’s (and our) judgment of what’s really happening.

I will say this book balanced thriller and mystery very well. There’s the whodunnit if these deaths really were attributed to homicides instead of accidents, but also that tense feeling that something’s not right in the most remote landscape on Earth.

To end off this review, I can’t emphasize enough how much I loved the experience of reading this book. It’s like McCulloch took us on this journey to Manaslu’s summit with the amount of details and descriptions.

The peak stood out, its enormous bulk an ominous black mass against the sparkling night sky. It dominated the horizon, stretching up into the heavens, and the summit wore the stars like a crown.

It’s truly an adventure in a book but also a reminder to sometimes take a breath and admire this world and our tiny place in it. When faced against the elements found at such high altitudes, we may appreciate more what life entails when death may be just a breath away.

Note: all quotes are subject to change upon final publication

Overall Recommendation:

Breathless takes you on the most amazing journey that mankind can partake in – climbing one of the tallest mountains in the world. The prose is so immersive I truly felt like I was there with our protagonist, Cecily, facing the unknowns and her fears. Unfortunately, there’s also something else afoot on the mountain but we may not be able to trust our judgment when the high altitude sickness comes in. This is the best kind of thriller/mystery and Amy McCulloch did it so well. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed if you pick this up.

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