Release Date: January 31, 2012 (already out in the UK)
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Michael Vyner recalls a terrible story, one that happened to him. One that would be unbelievable if it weren't true! Michael's parents are dead and he imagines that he will stay with the kindly lawyer, executor of his parents' will ...Until he is invited to spend Christmas with his guardian in a large and desolate country house.
His arrival on the first night suggests something is not quite right when he sees a woman out in the frozen mists, standing alone in the marshes. But little can prepare him for the solitude of the house itself as he is kept from his guardian and finds himself spending the Christmas holiday wandering the silent corridors of the house seeking distraction.
But lonely doesn't mean alone, as Michael soon realises that the house and its grounds harbour many secrets, dead and alive, and Michael is set the task of unravelling some of the darkest secrets of all. This is a nail-biting story of hauntings and terror by the master of the genre, Chris Priestley
Looking for a good Gothic tale?
Look no further. From the spooky old house, mad residents, and ghostly occurrences, The Dead of Winter is classic Gothic horror. It's even set up in that typically Gothic "Let me tell you a tale" narration style I love so much.
The Dead of Winter is so classic Gothic, in fact, that it almost felt like Chris Priestley wrote the whole thing with a "Features of Gothic Fiction" checklist in hand.
I'm the type of reader who delights in the comfort of repetition (just look at my fairy tale obsession for proof of that--how many times can I possibly read a 12 Dancing Princesses retelling? Endlessly), so I don't mind this checklist of the familiar approach. I even think it's fun spotting all of the requisite features.
Erm, except for when the features aren't really developed beyond the level of a checklist item.
I wanted more
The book is short, and that could be fine, but too many things were crammed in and none were particularly fleshed out. Plot threads were minimally developed and some were even dropped all together with no resolution. The supernatural parts didn't have enough explanation for me either. It was a fun read for sure, but the more I think about it the more I can find to nitpick.
There was SO MUCH potential with the haunting mystery, but it didn't turn out entirely right for me. It was like having a recipe for a perfect, delectable cookie...but then the baker accidentally doubled the flour and then forgot to add half the sugar. The bland, boring parts of the story were too much in the forefront and the zesty interesting parts were only half developed.
The Big Bad was a big disappointment. It came out of nowhere while also being utterly predictable. There was no build up or subtle suspicion on the part of the MC, and so there was also no depth or development to the villain.
There were a few not-so-subtle nods to the reader (like an old man elbowing you saying "Get it? Get it?" when, duh, everyone in the world gets it), but dummy Michael remained totally in the dark until the big reveal. When the Ah-ha moment finally came, it was almost hokey in over the top and out of the blue evilness.
And I'll admit it, I giggled. I know that sounds bad, but in The Dead of Winter's defense, this IS a Gothic book, and "over the top to the point of giggles" is pretty much one of those checklist features of the genre. So I guess I can give it a pass on that. It was fun.
Michael honey, CARPE DIEM!
What a whiner. I mean, ok, fine, maybe his mom did just die, but, jeez, can he tear himself away from his pity party for ONE SECOND and focus on the spooky hauntings? Please??
Nothing annoys me quite like a character who squanders good opportunities for fictional fun. Michael can't seem to recognize the value of being an orphan. Hasn't he read ANY books?? Fictional orphans get to have all the fun and Michael's situation is rife with potential excitement.
But apparently Michael missed this memo because he spent most of his time feeling sorry for himself and prissily complaining about how he wanted to leave ASAP. He also pouted because people didn't believe he saw a ghost. Pouted.
If he were a good little protagonist, he would have been throwing himself in perilous situations, hellbent on tracking down the malevolent presence stalking the dilapidated mansion and driving its residents off their rockers. We could have had so much fun together!
But no, Michael is a total killjoy. Things happened TO him while he sat there like a grumpy log. He had absolutely no engagement or curiosity. The situation was all "ooooh scary noises! Randomly shattering mirrors!" and Michael was all dispassionately "Uh, no. I'm sad my mom died. And why do I need to stay here again?"
He even complained that an old man gave him money. Money?! Something is clearly wrong with that boy.
I'm complaining too much
Ok, ok, I'm whining too much myself. I actually did enjoy reading The Dead of Winter. The story, though thin, is a fun Gothic yarn. And it was seriously scary.
I'm a wimpy reader, and there were a two scenes that pretty much terrified me. Yes, terrified. One is in the middle and one is toward the end, and both made me want to run around screaming in fear. Then there were about three or four other scenes that were more on the usual level of leave on all the lights and walk with my back to the wall kind of scary. It was wonderful!
I also loved the "big family love" provided by the servants. They were a perfect warm fuzzy balance to the heart-attack-inducing scenes.
If it weren't for Michael, I would have given this an easy 4 stars. Really, he was the part that bugged me the most. I still managed to have a lot of fun despite him, and I definitely recommend The Dead of Winter to readers looking for quick Gothic fun and a good scare. I am for sure checking out more of Chris Priestley's books.
Do you have any questions about The Dead of Winter that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!
Feel free to ask in the comments!
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