It’s cold outside. There’s snow fluttering through the air, the sun is swallowed by that jerk serpent by like 3:30 in the afternoon, and there are never enough layers, it sucks. But at least we’re not on Gethen!
We defrosted our fingers long enough to type a question of Twitter: what books capture winter for you? And the beautiful snowmisers of the internet responded with an avalanche of suggestions!
Nights of Villjamur—Mark Charan Newton
Nights of Villjamur tells several stories—one of the coming-of-age of a princess, another of a political murder mystery. But these are set against a larger story: an ice age is crashing down upon Villjamur, and refugees driven ahead of the freeze are gathered, near riot, at the city gates. Can the city open and offer them shelter? The new Queen will need to decide how best to help her people, and protect them from the long winter that is coming to them.
The Snow Queen—Joan D. Vinge
Joan Vinge’s novel takes us to Tiamat, a planet whose suns orbit a black hole, and whose inhabitants have split themselves into two rigid ways of life. The Winters believe in tech, and travel off-world when they can. The Summers believe in social castes and tradition.
Every 150 years, the orbit of the planet causes drastic ecological shifts which could cause chaos. To prevent this, the planet is ruled by two queens: a Snow Queen to represent the Winters, and a Summer Queen to represent the opposition in summer. The Queens live for the entire 150-year span thanks to the “water of life” taken from sentient sea creatures, and they are then ritually executed at the end of their rule. But Arienrhod, the latest Snow Queen, has other plans. The Snow Queen won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1981.
Winter’s Tale—Mark Helprin
While the movie didn’t work so well, Marc Helprin’s novel is much-beloved, and a great choice for a winter read. We travel to a slightly-alternate Belle Epoque New York bombarded by blizzards. One freezing night an Irish burglar, Peter Lake, breaks into a mansion, only to find a beautiful young girl inside. She’s suffering from consumption, and the cold bears down on her like death itself. The two fall into an epic, fairy tale love, and Lake is inspired to do whatever he can to stop time and save the girl’s life.
The Riddle—Allison Croggon
The second book in the Pellinor Series, The Riddle follows young Bard Maerad as she goes on a quest to solve the Riddle of the Treesong—the only thing that can bring peace to a kingdom divided by Dark and Light.
Maerad, a former slave, is only beginning her magical training, and at least on the surface is no match for the journey expected of her. She is trapped in the frozen realm of the Winterking, and must use all of her wits and new magic to survive. Croggon takes her time, and gives the setting an icy reality that’s hard to shake off after you’ve finished the book.
The Winter of the World—Poul Anderson
In Poul Anderson’s The Winter of the World, we begin thousands of years in humanity’s future, after an Ice Age has enveloped the Earth. Only a few groups of people have managed to survive, and the book explores the different ways they deal with the harsh environment, and what values carry humanity forward after so much has been lost. The extreme cold is woven into every page of the story…so maybe wait until summer to read this one.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe—C.S. Lewis
When the Pevensie children first discover Narnia, it’s always winter and never Christmas, and the land is ruled by The White Witch. It’s a pretty great winter read, but the best bit is that at the end of the story (um, spoiler alert) the winter melts away into a glorious spring, which is a resurrecion tale we can all agree on.
Read this, skim over the allegory if it makes you uncomfortable, and remember that spring will return. Someday.
At the Mountains of Madness—H. P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft takes us on a happy jaunt to Antarctica in his novella, At The Mountains of Madness. While on expedition, geologist and Miskatonic University professor William Dyer investigates the death of his colleagues, finding the remains of a dissection experiment and a weird city made of cubes and cones.
He drags a poor, doomed, and probably unpaid grad student into the city, which includes a series of helpful hieroglyphs that tell the story of The Elder Things’ war with the Star-Spawn of Cthulhu. As they’re reading the story, the explorers realize that They Are Not Alone and scamper, but not before the poor doomed grad student’s frail human mind is shattered by the ultimate truth of the Elder Gods. Plus, since they’re in Antarctica, they’re very very cold during all of this.
Ancillary Justice—Ann Leckie
Ancillary Justice spends about the first quarter of the book on an ice planet, as our narrator Breq has to navigate an unfamiliar society that has simply gotten used to surviving at sub-zero temperatures.
The third or fourth time a character has to thaw frozen bread in water to make it soft enough to eat, you’ll be asking yourself “WHY DO THEY STILL LIVE THERE” but when the story flashes back to the incredibly muggy swampland of Shis’urna, we actually start to miss the cold. We’re so changeable.
The first book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, Shiver tells the story of a girl and her werewolf. Grace, a human girl, finds herself drawn to a pack of wolves without fully understanding why. She knows she should fear them, but they seem to be… protecting her?
One of them, Sam, lives a dual life: in the winter he is a wolf, running with his pack and loving the cold. In summer he is granted a few sweet months of humanity. His other nature looms over him though—if he allows the cold to take him again, will he lose his humanity, and with it, Grace?
The Brief History of the Dead—Kevin Brockmeier
To be fair, only half of The Brief History of the Dead takes place in the cold. Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, and like so many of the books on this list, must set out across the unforgiving ice when low supplies and power failures threaten her life.
And now for the cold part: the other half of the book takes place in the City of the Dead. The City functions pretty well, considering, but the dead disappear as they’re forgotten by their survivors, and lately the City itself seems to be shrinking. These two stories unfold in alternating chapters as the Dead try to learn what’s going on, and Laura fights for life in the blistering cold.
The Left Hand of Darkness—Ursula K. Le Guin
The planet of Gethen is also known as Winter, which should give you some idea. Genly Ai is a Terran, and therefore used to a more varied climate, so we get many pages describing not just the culture shock of being in a non-gendered society, but also just how terribly, terribly cold it is.
This really takes off after Genly leaves the relative safety of Karhide to travel to the neighboring kingdom of Orgoreyn, because if you thought the cold was oppressive before, wait until you’re travelling over an ice sheet! And if you thought that was bad… well, we don’t want to spoil anything, just be warned that things can always get worse, and colder, but that the journey is worth it.