Book Review: BREATHLESS by Amy McCulloch

Title in yellow on dark blue mountain
Genre: Thriller
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: standalone


Book cover for BREATHLESS: title in yellow below dark snowy mountain peak


Near the top of one of the world’s tallest mountains, journalist Cecily Wong feels out of her depth. This trip was supposed to be the highlight of her career. Now, she knows that to reach the summit, she must trust her fellow climbers.

But when strange accidents start to happen, the blistering conditions are the least of her worries. Because little does she know: This gruelling climb is about to become deadly . . .

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


This was such a good, so hard to put down, and so terrifying at times. It was my book club’s January pick because we wanted another wintry thriller (after the success last year of ONE BY ONE) and this absolutely lived up to it.

Summitting mountains is difficult, dangerous, and a mountain like this one (Manaslu) is deadly. The lack of oxygen disorientates you, can kill you. The cold can kill. Dehydrating or not eating enough or an avalanche or falling into a crevasse. Nature is the boss and it doesn’t care about you.

That alone would make for a tense read, an inexperienced person trying to climb one of the toughest mountains in the world, but BREATHLESS adds a killer into the mix. It’s not just nature that’s out to kill, but also man – using the deadly environment to hide it.

But you aren’t entirely sure if there is a killer or not, because the lack of oxygen causes confusion. The book is a mind game of trying to work out how much is real and how much is hypoxia-induced hallucinations (as many characters suggest.) And if it is real, who is the killer and why? It made for such an addictive read.

The book is largely told in prose, all from Cecily’s perspective, but there were drafts of her articles, blogs, and interviews interspersing the chapters. I really liked getting to see her journalistic voice, the various attempts to get an angle on the story and learning about the side characters through her interviews.

The secondary characters are a mix of sketchy characters who are clearly hiding things (so you don’t trust them one inch and wince every time they get too close to Cecily, particularly Grant) and ones you want to wrap in cotton wool and protect from everything (Galden and Elise in particular.) It’s a nice mix of having enough characters to be wary of but also having more than one character you’re invested in so the danger seems even bigger (as there are more people you could “lose”.)

The author has another nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw (and made deadlier by man) thriller coming out this year, and it’s definitely on my to-read list now!

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