Amy McCulloch / Book Review

Amy McCulloch | Breathless

The Book: 

Breathless by Amy McCulloch
Published May 3, 2022 by Anchor
Date read: January 29, 2023

The Characters: 

Cecily Wong

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Buy it on Bookshop.org | Amazon

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The Plot (from Goodreads):

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.

How did Breathless end?

Click here for book spoilers for Breathless
Book spoilers ahead–if you haven’t yet read Breathless, I suggest you turn back now.

The Reveal:

Cecily’s big secret was that she felt she was responsible for the death of a hiker on Snowden. She and James had been trying to complete a challenge where they summit all three of Europe’s (?) highest peaks in 24 hours. Cecily could not finish, but she wanted James to complete the challenge so she told him to go ahead while she turned around. She was only wearing sneakers and was overtired from the challenge. She got stuck (crag fast) and froze with fear, unable to call for help. A hiker named Carrie found her and waited with her while they waited for help. But then Carrie moved closer to help Cecily, and the ledge collapsed and Carrie fell to her death. The experience scarred Cecily.

Present day, Cecily was able to summit, although Galden wasn’t with her and the circumstances were questionable. Her oxygen tank broke just before the summit. Doug had followed her up and said he had meant for her to descend the mountain, not up to the summit.

Carrie was Doug’s daughter. That’s why he was so angry when Cecily told the story, not just because she was inexperienced. He presumably had killed Iman and Irina.

Doug planned to leave Cecily on the mountain to avenge his daughter’s death, but Cecily made it down against all odds. She found Elise’s dead body during her descent. When she reached Camp 4, she found Zack. He had found a signal jammer in Doug’s things. They continued down together, but Zack began to show signs of acute mountain sickness. Luckily they found Galden, who helped them down to the next camp.

At Camp 2, they came across a tent. Cecily was overjoyed to find Charles inside, until she sees Elise’s camera in his things and realized he was the murderer.

The Review: 

I ADORED this book. I can’t even put my finger on what it was. That’s why I never wrote a review until now–I can’t find words for how much I liked this book. Even the mountaineering descriptions, which I can see other readers finding slow, were absolutely thrilling to me. I’m a hiker, although definitely nothing this intense–and after reading Breathless I don’t think I want to do any of the hikes in the Death Zone.

In 2017 I did a guided hike up Salkantay in Peru, and that’s what I was picturing while I read this book. It was nothing at all like Cecily’s hike–only 6000m, and it was a hike, not mountaineering, but it was the hardest multi-day hike I’ve done.

I felt like I was right on the mountain while reading Breathless. Every description was perfect, and I was so hooked on this story. The tension was so high and I just couldn’t put it down. I did find the culprit to be somewhat predictable, but the journey was worth the ending.

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