Why You Shouldn't Live Off the Grid: A Review of Old Country by Matt Query & Harrison Query
Updated: Jul 28
Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.
Thank you for joining me today. This week I am returning to my one true love: horror. I have an excellent review for you today. Today's book was released just yesterday, July 26.
I need to send a big thank you out to Novel Suspects Insider’s Club for adding a horror novel to their summer lineup, it really made my day when I saw that. Thank you again to Novel Suspects Insider’s Club and Grand Central Publishing for sending me a copy of today’s book; they aren’t paying me for my review, they just sent me the book for free.
So what am I reviewing today? Well it’s quite the story, let me tell ya that. Based on a Reddit sensation, I’ve got my claws on Old Country this week. Old Country is by Matt Query and Harrison Query, and as previously stated, this book was released July 26, 2022.
Synopsis time now. As always, a spoiler alert is in order; you’ve been warned. I also must issue a content and trigger warning. One of Old Country’s main characters is a war veteran who suffers from PTSD. If anything regarding war, specifically the war in Afghanistan, and any medical issues and traumas, both physical and mental, that come with this topic are upsetting or triggering to you in any way then I highly suggest skipping this book and review altogether. There is no escaping this content. Also, there is one brief mention of animal mutilation in this book. Be on the lookout for that as well. Now let’s crack into.
Meet Sasha and Harry, our protagonists. These twenty-something-year-olds have packed up their Golden Retriever, Dash, and their lives to move into the mountains of Idaho. The goal is to live off the land in their newly purchased cottage and 40 acres of land. Their neighbors consist of one elderly couple and a national park. It’s the perfect, secluded place to live away from most of society while still being close enough to civilization should anything happen to them. The couple couldn’t be happier.
Then Dan and Lucy stop by to introduce themselves. They are the elderly couple who live nearby, and they bring Sasha and Harry a lovely housewarming gift of firewood and instructions on how to deal with the malevolent spirit that lives in the area. Yeah…turns out each season has certain rituals that must be completed in order to keep this spirit at bay. Obviously our young, city-slicker couple don’t believe their wise, elderly neighbors and think everything they’ve just learned about are the musings of an elderly couple who are losing their marbles. But they’re not. Dan and Lucy are completely sane. And Sasha and Harry soon learn that.
The longer the main characters live in their little cottage, the darker things become. Accidents happen, secrets are revealed, and danger lurks around every corner. Will Sasha and Harry be able to defeat this evil spirit? Will they make it out alive? Or are they destined to die on this land? All is revealed in Old Country.
Firstly, I have a very important piece of information I must get out of the way. Dash, the Golden Retriever, lives! I was holding a very large breath the entire read, and it was a very good feeling when I got to release it at the end. This would be a one star read had Dash not lived. Thankfully he makes it through the whole thing unharmed. He’s a 10-out-of-10 Good Boy.
Now that the most important thing is out of the way, let’s get to the review proper. Like most of my reviews, I shall start with the characters. As readers are stuck with the following two characters for the entirety of the book, I’ll only be talking about Sasha and Harry.
They aren’t my favorite characters. I’ve seen Sasha and Harry many times before in horror novels. Sadly, they fall into the “Wife Thinks House is Haunted and Husband Doesn’t Believe Her” category. When the couple is told there is a spirit haunting the land they live on, Sasha is more inclined to believe it and Harry thinks it’s a big ole pile of bullshit. It doesn’t take Harry too long to believe in the haunting, but when he does accept the fact, he becomes aggressive towards the entity and begins to taunt it. This couple soon devolves into “Husband Being Stupid and Wife Can’t Get Him to Stop” territory. Honestly, everything about them feels trope-y. They’re every couple in haunted house books and paranormal TV shows. They’re a dime a dozen.
I also have to say, the introduction to them isn’t good either. The authors dump backstory and exposition on readers right at the start. Seriously, the first part of the book is just dumping backstory on readers. And it’s not just any exposition dumping, it’s trauma dumping. This story is told in the dual POV of Harry and Sasha, and the first chapter Harry narrates is nothing but discussing his time in Afghanistan. The same thing goes for Sasha. Except she’s not dropping her backstory, readers are once again getting Harry’s backstory. This backstory and exposition dump is not good. It’s poorly done and it’s just dumping trauma after trauma after trauma upon readers.
In fairness, this book is a massive allegory for mental health issues. It’s most likely an allegory for PTSD given that Harry suffers from it. Please, do not quote me on that though. I am not a mental health professional, I know the bare minimum regarding PTSD, I am not qualified to talk about the specifics of PTSD and how it’s presented in Old Country or how the book is an allegory for it. I do not have any research to back that claim up. All I am qualified for is to say that this book is an allegory for mental health issues. I have been trained to identify literary devices and point them out, and that is it. All this to say, Old Country could have been bettered by using some subtlety when it came to our main character’s traumatic backstory. Trauma dumping ain’t it because as the book stands now, the allegory feels soooo heavy-handed. It could be good if toned down just a hare.
Despite all the trauma dumping occurring in the beginning, and my review thus far, this book is actually quite the slow burn, and a good one at that. The spirit starts out small, it’s a simple light in a pond, but by the end it’s fully interacting with our main couple. I have to give the authors props for how good the slow burn is regarding the haunting. I didn’t think I liked it at first, but the longer I sit here, the more I’m appreciating the intensity of the slow burn.
Sure, there are a few moments where it feels like nothing is happening. For as much discussion there is on the spirit, there is an equal amount, if not more, about Harry hunting or working the land. Or guns. There is a lot of talk on guns. I digress, but the day to day portions of the book? Boring. Not my cup of tea. The spirit? Great. Could have done with a bit more research and backstory about where the spirit originates from, why it’s still here, what it wants etc., but I’m definitely here for it. Like, I wanted to keep reading to see what the spirit did next and learn more about it. I was hooked.
Now, for all the gore lovers out there, this book has some good gore. I would not say descriptions are this book’s strong suit, but there is one scene that is genuinely scary and has some good gore. It actually had me shook. I had to reread it because it was so good. It certainly stood out and stuck with me.
The same can be said for the ending. Sadly, for all the wrong reasons though. This is gonna be tricky to discuss without me giving anything away, but let’s just say the end felt like a slap in the face. The ending makes it feel like everything that occurred was for nothing. If you’re reading for a haunted house horror novel, then the ending is not good. If you read this book as an allegory for mental health issues, then the ending feels better but I doubt the average reader will do so. Overall, I would say the ending could have been done differently.
I'm sorry, this review is kinda messy and all over the place. I'm trying to review Old Country as I would with any other novel. I'm not trying to read into the subtext all that much, but I am finding it difficult with this one as it has made my English major brain run wild. I'm really trying to review this like: "this plot is convoluted" or "the pacing is incredible." Basically like any of my other reviews. Sadly, my mind is yelling at me to read and review it with all the subtext in mind that I feel my review has turned into two different takes now and I keep contradicting myself. I'm sorry.
Old Country is a story with some very strong elements to it. The intensity of the slow burn was some of the best I’ve read this year. And I know that there is a niche of horror readers who are going to eat this book up. Not everything about it was my cup of tea, but it is most certainly a decent horror debut from Matt Query and Harrison Query. I believe if someone reads Old Country with the idea in mind that it's an allegory for mental health issues, the book is elevated. If a reader goes into this book just wanting a horror story, then the book is just average.
Thank you once again to Novel Suspects Insider’s Club and Grand Central Publishing for sending me an advanced copy of Old Country. Please send more horror novels my way in the future. They will be very appreciated. And with that, I must bid you all adieu. I shall see you next week with another great post.
Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.