We all have our weaknesses when it comes to books, tropes or character types we’re immediately drawn to. One of mine, and I have many, is environmental/biological horror. More specifically, nature run amok/striking back. It can be animals (Dr. Rat by William Kotzwinkle), insects (Invasive by Chuck Wendig), plants (The Ruins by Scott Smith)—you get the idea.
Jayme Bean’s Untouched definitely has some The Ruins vibes, but she’s very much her own writer, and this is an exciting, original and engrossing novel.
The setup is simple and devastatingly effective—a doctor takes two grad students into the remote Amazon rainforest for research purposes, but also to find a fellow researcher who has stopped checking in. Shit gets real quickly when the jungle, seemingly with a mind of its own, separates them, and Untouched becomes a tale of discovery and survival.
Bean excels at describing the rainforest as something beautiful yet overwhelming and ultimately terrifying. She makes you feel the oppressive heat and humidity, the claustrophobia that can come from lush vines and sharp, spiky, dangerous plants pressing in on you from all sides. She has a background in zoology, which comes through clearly in her vivid descriptions of the wildlife they encounter. Her descriptions of plant life are just as vivid, just as detailed. Bean writes with a scientific authority that makes her story feel all the more plausible. Untouched is at heart a cautionary tale—nearly all living things, when threatened, will take steps to protect themselves.
If Bean’s rainforest setting feels authentic, so do her characters. They are all complex and fully realized, with interesting back stories. Threaded throughout the novel, weaved into the terror, is a touching new romance with beats that feel just right. Bean writes straight, gay, and bi characters equally well. I found myself rooting for them to survive, just to see where the relationship would go.
If I haven’t made it clear by now, you should read Untouched. And one other thing—Bean got the idea for this novel while visiting the Amazon, and she has an engrossing post, with a bunch of great photos, here: https://jaymebeanauthor.com/untouched/inside-untouched/