Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley
Release Date: January 31, 2012 (already out in the UK)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 224
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


Summary

From Goodreads:

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


Review

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.

Seriously?

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.

Bottom line

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.


Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 


Do you have any questions about The Dead of Winter that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!



Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews/Goodreads.

36 comments:

  1. I was kind of interested in reading this but the skull on the cover freaked me out too much and I figured I would be scared. As a fellow wimpy reader, it seems clear that I would have been.

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    1. Haha I love the cover, precisely because it freaks me out too :P Even though there are scary parts, NONE of them have to do with the cover. I don't even know why there is a skull on the cover. (I was disappointed about that)

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  2. Never heard of this book, and yes even with you giving it four stars I'm not sorry about that. ;) I hate characters that feel sorry for themselves all the time (BELLA!!)! I can't stand those characters. And yes, I'm only looking on the negative side here, but so what. lol. :)

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    1. :) I totally agree. I don't like whiners at all, especially when they have so much opportunity for awesome adventures! I'm hoping the author's other books have better main characters, because I liked the rest of his book.

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  3. I loved your commentary on Michael, pouting and sitting there like a grumpy log. Ypur funny review definitely makes me want to check this one out. I love the creepy cover too!

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    1. :P I'm glad you liked my review! I would recommend this book. Even with Michael. The cover is awesome, but sadly it has very little to do with the book.

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  4. I HATE whiny protags. Aside from the fact that it's gothic SCARY story, I don't think I'd read it for that reason alone. Michael would totally get to me *lol*

    Still, loved the review! ESPECIALLY when you were complaining about Michael xD

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    1. Me too! Whiny characters are irritating. Glad you liked my review!

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  5. *grins* Loved your review! He does sound kind of whinny and I can't stand that either!!
    Your review made me smile!

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    1. Thanks! I would have liked the book so much more if Michael had been better.

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  6. I like the idea of a Gothic novel, I like that despite all the problems you had with it that you still enjoyed it. I definitely can understand the 'It's so over the top that I giggled', those are always fun. But I feel like the character of Michael would drive me up the wall. Great review!

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    1. Yes! It was a lot of fun, and I think a reader will enjoy it as long as they go in knowing things are over the top giggle inducing and that Michael is a weenie.

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  7. I quite enjoyed this one when I read it too! I love a good gothic yarn! :)

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    1. Me too! I hope he writes more like this.

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  8. Oh goodness, I can't stand whiny MCs! They are supposed to be the ones going on adventures! I don't want to live vicariously through them if they are just going to whine :/

    But this book still sounds interesting. Though I'm such a lightweight when it comes to the creepy crawlers of the night! I'll have to look into borrowing this from the library and reading it during the day :)
    Great review!!

    Mackenzie @ Oh, For the Love of Books!

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    1. I know, right?! I want a little go-getter MC, not a whiner.

      I'm a total lightweight too. I needed to read it during the daylight hours :P

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  9. Is this a book for middle grade readers or older YA? The premise sounds like it would fit younger readers better, but maybe I'm reading wrong. Probably not my thing but sounds interesting.

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    1. Hm, I think it can be enjoyed by both. Other than the fact that it is scary (and maybe a little disturbing for young MG readers?), I think it would be fine for MG-ers and entertaining enough for YAs.

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  10. Sometimes I find that I have way more complaints about books I ultimately liked than ones I didn't. This is definitely one of those books for you. :)

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    1. Me too, and yes, this is definitely one of those. I don't think that's a bad thing though. It just goes to show that something doesn't need to be perfect to still be enjoyable.

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  11. That skull on the cover is creepy and just makes me want to avoid the book since I don't do scary. But ... you're making me want to read this one for some reason. I guess I just want to laugh at Michael not figuring out the clues and complaining about being given money :)

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    1. It is creepy! But it has pretty much nothing to do with the plot. :P

      The complaining about money thing was crazy. I wanted to jump into the book and offer to take his inheritance off his hands.

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  12. Whiny characters is the reason I don't think I can like Tanis in the Dragonlance books. Yes, you are a child of rape, get over it. Give me Raislin!

    I do scary. Give me scary!

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    1. Pfft, you will probably laugh at this and say it isn't scary enough! You are FAR braver than I am :)

      YES! Raislin is x10000 better than Tanis.

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  13. " 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..."

    LOL!!! SO true...I LOVE LOVE LOVE Gothic novels, but predictable endings and whiny main characters...not so much. Hmm...I'm on the fence on this one.

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    1. It's such a short book, that I'd say go for it. You know now not to take it too seriously, so that should help. :)

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  14. Hmm, I'm not up for the scaring me that bad. I twitch at every noise and seem to have developed a habit of hearing doors open that are not opening, especially at night. Unless we have a ghost which I do not want to consider. I also think my dogs are barking to come back inside and I get up to let them in and find them right at my feet. I really don't need anything to stir up my imagination. That all being said, I do love a Gothic story and I don't think I've read one with a guy as the main character. Even if he is whiny. Is that Woman in Black the book for the movie that the Harry Potter guy is in? And I remember mention of My Sword Hand Swinging but was it that scary?

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    1. This will definitely mess with your imagination then! Avoid! Avoid! :)

      YES! The Woman in Black book is what the movie is based on. I cannot wait to see the movie. I loved the book so much (there's a dog!) and I have high expectations for the movie that I hope will be met.

      I thought My Swordhand is Singing was scary, but others didn't think so. But, I'm wimpy :P

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  15. I'm kind of a wimpy reader as well. I can appreciate the author allowing the protagonist wallow in pity instead of joining in the fun that most YA teens instantly recognize but I really dislike underdeveloped stories. I'll have to pass. That cover is seriously scary though.

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    1. The cover is great. The underdeveloped parts bugged me too. I wish the author hadn't thrown in so many things (like a sort of but not really developed romance that wasn't necessary at all).

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  16. I haven't ever read a Gothic Fiction book before, at least that I was aware of, that is. I like the sound of this because its a short easy read. The whiney character thing may wear on me though. At the beginning of your review, I thought you may have rated it less than a three, so I was surprised you ended up with 3.5. I think this is one I probably will give a try, just not something I'll read right away though. Thanks for the thoughtful review. PS: I always get a kick out of your analogies. You come up with some great stuff Small.

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    1. I ended up giving it more because even the whining was sort of fun. I was totally into the book, scolding Michael and freaking myself out over every little noise :P I definitely wish some things had been different, but overall my experience was fun and I don't regret reading it at all. I hope you enjoy it!

      Thank you! :)

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  17. Glad you enjoyed this overall, even though Michael wasn't brilliant. Great review! :)

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  18. The cover is so beautiful (as creepy as it is).
    I'm not so much into whiny characters but these days there are plenty of them out there ;)) Also I like the big bad guy to be interesting and to have good reasons to be the way he is. It is so disappointing when the evil is there just to fill in the blanks *sigh*

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    1. I am in love with the cover. :) Yes, the weak villain was maybe even more of a disappointment to me than Michael, but I can overlook it considering the book is so short. If I look at it more like a campfire scary story than a novel, then I'm ok with the villain's level of development.

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