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Literature / Thunderhead

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Thunderhead is a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, first published in 1999.

The story follows Nora Kelly on her search to uncover the truth about her father and his possible discovery of Quivira, a mythical Anasazi city of gold. The expedition sets out into the badlands of Utah, but the way is fraught with danger and a sinister evil seems to be lurking in the desert.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Sloane pilots, rock climbs, rides horses, and has decent skill with a firearm. And these are just the things she actually does in the story. It's mentioned or implied that she does a ton more such activities at the insistence of her high standard father. Nora doesn't do too bad herself.
  • Adventure Archaeologist: Nora's father was an amateur pot hunter who enjoyed searching the desert for undiscovered sites.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sloane is beautiful, intelligent, smart, and extremely talented. She's also ruthlessly power hungry and manipulative. Killing her rival in a flash flood isn't even beneath her.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: A big show of Skip and Goddard mounting their rescue expedition is made. We never even see their actual arrival out in the wilderness. Beyoozadin saves Smithback and Nora from the final skinwalker after Nora has dispatched the first one herself.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Nora explains to Smithback how to hear a flash flood coming in the canyons.
  • Death World: The Utah canyon system is a dangerous place: from rattlers, lack of water, perilous cliffs, poisonous shrubbery, and flash floods, to potent diseases in the dust that can kill you within hours.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Despite their mother's bashing of him, Skip and Nora obviously remember their father fondly.
  • Disappeared Dad: Nora's father literally disappeared into the Utah desert 16 years ago.
  • Dwindling Party: The expedition starts out with a single digit crew and is whittled down one at a time by extenuating circumstances.
  • Exact Words: Nora asked for the weather report, not the actual weather.
  • Exposition Victim: Nora almost lets herself become one. She confronts Sloane and lays out exactly what she's done and what's going to happen to her when they get back to society. She only notices Sloane reach for her gun and realizes she's made a terrible mistake with seconds to spare.
  • Foreshadowing: When Swire shares his poem to Hurricane Deck with Nora, he specifically notes that the last stanza doesn't fit. It refers to the magnificent free spirit of a horse being retired to carrying tourists around dude ranches. The horse's true fate lay at the bottom of a ravine.
  • Freudian Excuse: Sloane has serious Daddy issues. Bad enough to drive her to kill to upstage him.
  • Grave Robbing: The skinwalkers rob graves to strip corpses of their magical parts.
  • I Call It "Vera": Teresa refers to her shotgun as "Senor Winchester."
  • Lost World: Quivira
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: After the flash flood fails to kill Nora, Sloane resolves to shoot her and Smithback and throw them into the waters so people will think they died in the flood anyway.
  • Motive Rant: Sloane goes on a long rant about how Nora forced her to kill her because she had the nerve to be the leader of the expedition instead of herself.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Sloane decides the best way to stay in Quivira is to kill Nora in a flash flood. When she finds out Nora and Smithback survived, she immediately decides the only recourse is to shoot them and throw them into the flood waters. All so she could be credited with the discovery herself.
  • Perfect Poison: Corpse Powder loaded with the Valley Fever fungus in a concentrated amount that can kill within hours of infection.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Poor Peter is the first to die at Quivira.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Teresa's physical prowess and skill with a gun are noted several times before she is slaughtered like a wounded animal.
  • Shipper on Deck: Sloane tells Nora she's pegged Smithback for her, and Black for herself. She's right.
  • The Starscream: Sloane is constantly looking for ways to undermine Nora's authority and take over herself. She even stoops to trying to kill her in a flash flood.
  • Vigilante Execution: Beiyoodzin recounts how his family hunted down the skinwalker who killed his grandfather and cursed him. They shot the man in his sleep so they didn't give him any chance to cast further spells or try to escape. He mentions that it "took a great many bullets."
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: A female version in Sloane. It haunts her that she never seems to live up to her father's expectations of her.
  • When a Jerk Loves a Tsundere: Smithback and Nora
  • Witch Doctor: The skinwalkers.