REVIEW: Sawtooth by Steph Nelson


Last Updated on February 12, 2024

Sawtooth is Steph Nelson’s monstrously disquieting survival horror set in the Sawtooth Mountain Range of central Idaho. Named for the jagged shape of the range’s fifty-seven peaks, these remote mountains might also be home to a fabled beast of the same name.

SawtoothThe lead protagonist, Taryn, takes her first solo trek through the Sawtooth Range under unhappy circumstances, viz., scattering the ashes of her wife, Gemma, in a secluded lake. But honoring her late wife’s final wish proves to be more disconcerting than expected, as Taryn finds an assortment of bones—possibly human—in the otherwise beautifully clear lake.

Taryn’s journey in Sawtooth becomes increasingly perilous as she suffers injury and ultimately discovers the true nature of the novella’s eponymous beast. (It’s not what you think.)

The Sawtooth Range provides the perfect setting for this adventure. The natural beauty of the mountainous scenery is juxtaposed with the fear of what’s lurking in the great unknown.

Steph Nelson alternates Taryn’s present-day narrative with flashbacks of her relationship with Gemma, including both the happy times together as well as their struggles. While Gemma was always drawn toward a rural life in the mountains, Taryn preferred to pursue her career aspirations in the bustle of Boise.

The most touching scenes involved Gemma receiving her terminal diagnosis and Taryn’s subsequent struggle with setting her priorities right. Steph Nelson captured my heart with both of these characters. The ending of the novella is quite emotional, hitting extra hard because of the relationship drama in the flashback sequences.

Steph Nelson’s prose in Sawtooth is as incisive as the title would imply. Her writing is so polished that I was surprised to learn this is her debut novella. Nelson strikes the perfect balance between the tragedy faced by Taryn and Gemma in their personal relationship and then the physical manifestation of that horror. Nelson’s pacing is also spot-on, building up to a climax that I won’t soon forget.

Overall, Sawtooth will sink its teeth into you from the first page, taking you on a harrowing journey that is well worth the trip. Sawtooth is a stellar debut from a very talented new voice in the genre, and I look forward to reading more from Steph Nelson in the future.

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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