Winter is upon us, and with it, inklings of Christmas.
There is no finer time, I find, for families and friends to get together, to share warmth and wine—mulled or otherwise—over stories of sleds and snowmen... all while a blanket of white settles softly upon the trees and streets outside.
But we all know that winter can be wicked as well; a season as cruel as it is cold. At its worst, winter, and the nightmarish things it brings, can kill. And in Snowblind by Christopher Golden, it does... or indeed they do.
“They were like wraiths, jagged, frozen bogeymen, and they whirled about on crushing gusts of wind.” In the promising prologue of Golden’s new novel—a prolonged piece set some years before the bulk of the book—these obscene creatures take eighteen souls young and old: a tragedy that tears apart the small Massachusetts community of Coventry.
A decade and change later, the survivors still struggle. And not just because they are haunted by hellish memories of that dark and stormy night:
Everything in Coventry—hell, the whole country—had gone downhill. The talking heads on TV said the economy was improving, but most of the guys he knew were still scared shitless that their jobs might evaporate out from underneath them. Either that or they were already unemployed.
Doug himself was just barely hanging on.
Doug’s girlfriend died that devastating day, and only recently has he found his feet... which is to say he’s started stealing. “As crazy as it sounded, even to him, stealing from people was the first thing he had ever done that made him feel as if he was in control of his life.” To his credit, however, he’s well aware that his winning streak won’t end well, so when the weather channels warn that a snowstorm to rival the one that once crushed Coventry is coming, he masterminds a final night of crime. A single spree to set him up for the foreseeable.
The other survivors who hear the news don’t see the silver lining Doug does. Jake Schapiro, who lost his baby brother in the Great Storm, remembers more than most. These days, he’s a crime scene photographer, because “the camera gave him comfort. [...] The flash chased the shadows away and left only the tangible world. If the camera couldn’t see something, it wasn’t real.” Meanwhile his mother Allie lost the love of her life that night, namely Niko, the father of Jake’s forever friend Miri.
Then there’s TJ and Ella, who found comfort and companionship in one another’s arms in the midst of all that suffering so long ago. Alas, their relationship has been on the rocks recently, and when their dear daughter starts acting strangely they can’t help but worry that their frequent fights have hurt her.
And it wouldn’t do to forget Detective Joe Keenan, who is haunted by the memory of the boy he couldn’t save that day. When a pair of parents die in a car crash—neither the first nor the last of Coventry’s casualties—and no-one can find the body of their boy, Keenan fixates on finding the missing child. The very same missing child that comes straight to Jake after the accident, claiming to be his dead baby brother...
Snowblind boasts a fair array of characters, precious few of whom, I fear, are developed to any extent. It says a bunch about the book that Doug, a two-bit criminal, is one of its most fascinating figures. How he rationalises his bad behaviour, and how the difficult times we face today have come to define him, lends perceptible pathos to his perspective. Unfortunately he’s not very well served by Golden’s meandering narrative, which eventually simply dispenses with the pretense that it gives a good goddamn about any of Snowblind’s other characters—excepting our heroes, the Schapiros.
To make matters worse, the town Snowblind takes place in is disappointingly ill-defined. In lieu of a more distinct or interesting description, I found myself imagining a sort of snowy Bon Temps: a picture which played perfectly well with the concept of monsters taking pleasure in terrorising Coventry’s cast of maudlin mortals.
They live in the storm, but it’s not just any storm. They exist in a kind of endless blizzard that is somehow its own place, a kind of frozen limbo. When it snows anywhere, this other, unnatural storm overlaps with out world.
Snowblind is not the “ethereal and nightmarish contemporary fairy tale” that David S. Goyer promises, nor is it one dark and stormy night novel to rule them all, as Stephen King insists, but though the book’s diffuse focus is damning, and it suffers from a lacklustre cast of characters and an at best suggestive setting, in truth these drawbacks do not dramatically detract from Snowblind’s easy appeal as a chilling wintry thriller. Artless but not heartless, fans of 30 Days of Night will find a lot to like.
Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.