Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Hard pass on winter horror

At tor.com: 5 Books About the Horror of Winter

This is the season for horror. By the end of a book or movie the crisis will be over in some way, and the danger will have passed: this applies, of course, to much fiction, but when the stakes are at their highest, the catharsis is all the more wonderful. As GK Chesterton wrote, ‘Fairy tales don’t tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.’ And winter horror reminds you that spring will come.

While this is a fine reason to read horror, I guess, let us pause to examine the last book listed in the linked post:

This opens with gut-wrenching scenes as Simon, by his own admission a loser, pays a strange man to guide him through closed caves in Wales so he can take photos, for his website, of the bodies of earlier adventurers who died down there. When Simon is the only one to make it out alive he becomes notorious and needs to do something even bigger to capitalize on his fame. Off he goes to Mount Everest, ‘the highest graveyard in the world’, lying about his climbing experience to get him to a place where he can film the corpses on the mountainside.

Ugh! This might turn into a horror novel, but right now it sounds like a character study of a terrible person. From this description, I’m totally on board with this guy meeting a grisly end! I wonder if that is quite the effect the author is going for.

Should you want to try this book, for some reason, I notice it’s only $1.99 on Amazon right now. Definitely not one I’ll be looking at, though, not this winter, but probably also not any winter.

Instead of stories where winter is a season that leads to horror, this year I definitely prefer stories where winter is, though perhaps dangerous, also glorious.

1.Mapping Winter by Marta Randall, the winter-themed story I am most pleased the author wrote and released.

2. Winter’s Tale by Helprin, which does the glory of winter better than any other book ever written

3. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

4. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

New cover for that one:

I don’t quite get what these circles are supposed to represent. But I never liked the original cover, so, well, meaningless circles are all right with me, I guess. Can anybody suggest what they are supposed to be, though?

5. Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

6. The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge

7. Cloud’s Rider by CJC

8. Anvil of Ice by Scott Michael Rohan

9. The Ice Dragon by GRR Martin

10. And, of course, Tuyo

If you’ve got a favorite winter-themed story — particularly one where winter is not presented as something to endure, or not only something to endure, but as as beautiful and/or glorious — by all means, drop it in the comments.

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5 Comments Hard pass on winter horror

  1. Mary Beth

    Cloud’s Rider—and its sequel, Rider at the Gate—would actually fit into the “winter horror” category as well, I think. I love them but can only reread them sparingly because of that oppressive claustrophobic sense they give. But Finnisterre and the night horses and the ambient take up a lot of real estate in my imagination.

    I really like the way you balanced winter’s beauty and its danger in Tuyo, with the soft hammer of the gods bringing not just death, but also stillness and peace.

  2. Rachel

    Mary Beth, you are basically right. Those Rider novels really are winter horror. I shouldn’t have put them on the list, but I guess I was thinking more about winter and less about horror. And I do like the “horses.”

    As a side comment, imagine how much nicer the second book would have been if the protagonist had just gently dropped that girl off the nearest cliff. All the way through Rider at the Gate, I was figuratively shouting, “JUST KILL HER, YOU IDIOT!” This was perhaps not quite the reaction CJC was going for, but it’s why I have only read this duology a couple of times.

    And thanks! That is an example of a plot element I introduced early for one reason and then found exactly suited a need much later in the book. I really had no idea it would work out that way until very close to the end.

  3. Allan Shampine

    This is a bit off topic, but I was reading Weaving Lightning on recommendation of Cliff Winnig and was finding myself dreading picking up my Kindle. It’s hard to put my finger on why I was not engaged, although the needlessly baroque magic system certainly didn’t help (practitioners must balance three different realities in their heads while casting), but I finally decided life was too short and DNFed it. I then read C.S. Friedman’s latest book and blasted right through it. I was struck at the contrast. I was quickly engaged, I liked the characters, I wanted to know what would happen next. Again, I couldn’t say WHY my reaction was so much better, but I think basically Friedman is just a much better writer, and the combination of intangibles, while hard to articulate, adds up to a big difference in the reading experience.

  4. Rachel

    Allan, I had an experience like that with Fledgling by Octavia Butler. I read some vampire novel or other, I have no idea what, with mild attention. It had words in a row. I can’t remember whether I finished it or not.

    Then I started Fledgling and was instantly hooked and zoomed right through it.

    As you say, it was a little unclear exactly where the first book failed, but Butler was just so much better a writer and the overall impact of her skill was tremendous.

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