A vicious blizzard hits the small New England town of Coventry, bringing with it far more than severe cold and power failures. Scary ice monsters move through the storm, stealing away the living, and feeding on the souls of the dead.
Twelve years later, the citizens of Coventry are still mourning the loss of the eighteen people who died in that storm. Detective Joe Keenan still wishes he could have saved the two boys who died when they tried to go sledding. Doug Manning lost his wife Cherie, and has turned to crime as he struggles to make ends meet thanks to the recession. Ella and TJ are also struggling to keep their restaurant – and their marriage – afloat. Their daughter Grace was unexpectedly conceived on the night of the big blizzard, but TJ also lost his mother. Jake Shapiro still had nightmares about the death of his little brother Isaac. Their mother Allie not only mourns the loss of her son, but also the death of the man she was falling in love with.
Now another a huge blizzard is coming, and some people are acting even stranger than usual. The ghosts of the dead have returned, and they’re taking over the bodies of the living. But their sudden return to life won’t last long, because the ice men are coming to take back what’s theirs.
Well, as you can see from my rating of 4/10, I didn’t particularly care for this one. I liked the prospect of a ghost story reminiscent of Stephen King, but it’s very bland. It’s more of a drama about love, loss, friendship and family than a horror novel. The ice monsters are creepy, but they’re mostly there to facilitate the more personal stories. They kill loved ones, the loved ones come back as ghosts and are reunited with the living, but then the ice men threaten to take them away again. The ice men have very little time on the page – they appear briefly during the first storm, and again at the climax of the novel.
If you’re wondering about the ghosts who return, well they’re not creepy, with the slight exception of an old woman who possesses the body of an 11-year-old girl, but acts just like a blunt, disapproving old woman. All the other ghosts are really just trying to spend some time with the people they loved and lost.
However, they’re also hoping to hide from the ice men, because the ice men can only get to them when the storm is at it’s worst, but if they escape they’ll be able to live again. Obviously, this raises the issue of using someone else’s body, but although this is mentioned often it’s not really explored even when one ghost starts a sexual relationship that the body’s owner could not have agreed to.
There’s also quite a serious question of conflict between the ghost and the host. Obviously the living wouldn’t be willing to give up their lives, their friends and relatives wouldn’t be willing to accept the change and it’s hugely impractical, especially when there’s an old woman in a child’s body or a child in an adult’s body. On the other hand, for the ghosts to leave means returning to some kind of icy hell where they’ve spent the last 12 years, and no one wants to tell someone they loved that they have to go back to hell. However, not all the living relatives are told this, and the standard refrain is that the dead are dead and they can’t intrude on the living. A simple solution slapped on a complex problem. I understand the characters are often in desperate situations, but it still feels like this is handled too lightly. It reminds me a lot of Hitchers by Will McIntosh, but although I didn’t enjoy that book much either, I think it took a much more serious approach to this issue.
I also think it’s a pity that all the ghosts are so normal. Twelve years in hell with ice monsters and they’re still perfectly sane? It would have been much more interesting if they were fucked up and manipulative, and the living were torn between finding the people they’d lost, and finding out that those people are now monsters themselves. But no. The focus is the mundane reality of broken relationships and grieving people rather than the ways the supernatural world might affect that.
So once I realised I was not going to get what I’d been promised, I tried to just settle down with what I got – a story about ordinary folk in small-town America who have been through hard times. But I must admit, that’s not the kind of story I would ever pick up, and Christopher Golden is no Stephen King (who can make small-town stories interesting). I felt like I’d read about all these people and their relationships before in some other book. None of them are particularly memorable, and Golden writes them with a ton of boring, useless details, like the colour of their hair or their experience with microwave popcorn. Occasionally there’s something important, like the fact that Joe is haunted by the fact that he couldn’t save those two boys in the last snowstorm. Most of it, however, is just padding and does absolutely nothing to flesh out the characters.
I didn’t particularly like the overall feel of the book either. The blurb claims that it “updates the ghost story for the modern age”, but three’s nothing particularly modern about it. It feels like it could have been set at any time between now and 1960. There are references to contemporary media and technology, but none of it is important. Pictures of the ice men aren’t posted on Facebook or Twitter, no one compares facing monsters with gaming, no one tries to find out how other people around the world might have dealt with this (the ice men go wherever there is severely cold stormy weather). If you wanted to change this novel so it was set in the eighties, you could just alter the relevant details without making any difference to the plot or characters.
At the same time there are lots of things that make the book feel old-fashioned, like the use of the words “fisticuffs”, “fretting” and “flick” (as in “a flick with a young Denzel Washington”). Doug tells us how he “remained loyal to the [TV] station for as long as he could remember paying attention to the news” because the newsreaders are always “people who seemed real, like you’d bump into them on the street and they’d say hello”. Doug isn’t even an old man – he’s in his thirties or forties. I’ll admit that I might just be biased because I Iive online as much as I do in the real world, I was born in a city and I’ve never spent more than a day in a small town anywhere, so this book seems strangely quaint. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s definitely not “for the modern age” and the younger characters often seem out of touch.
So yeah, I was disappointed and mostly bored. I think anyone looking for a good horror novel is going to feel the same. You might enjoy it if you’re interested in the simple stories of ordinary folk in small-town America, with a dash of scary fantasy to make things a bit more interesting.