Title: The Snow and the Darkness
Author: Matthew Warren Wilson
Jason doesn’t care that a snowstorm is coming. He spent $800 on plane tickets for him and his girlfriend Valerie to travel to Virginia, and he intends to use them. At the airport, Jason’s brother Frank and his girlfriend Lucy meet them. As Frank drives them home amid a freezing blizzard, an accident causes them to divert to a side road. There, Frank sees a lone man walking in the snow. He picks up the stranger out of a sense of compassion. But the stranger gives Jason a bad feeling. The worst seems to be confirmed when, on a pit stop, Lucy is attacked and their tires are slashed. But is it the work of the stranger? Jason thinks he saw… something… in the darkness. Can it be that a monster lurks in the snow?
I was on Amazon, buying some DVDs, when The Snow and the Darkness popped up on the suggestion screen. Normally, I’d download a sample, but this book happened to be free, so I “bought” it. Since it was a gloomy day and I was feeling tired, I decided to go through my books and see which one would be worth reading. The Snow and the Darkness was that lucky book.
The Snow and the Darkness is a horror novel that contains lots of gore, some of it very creative. But it has little in the way of scares. I felt disturbed once or twice in the beginning, but eventually the fountains of blood caused me to feel detached and repulsed. This was because I never felt more than a mild interest in the human characters. Rather than reveal deeper personalities and develop heroic traits, Jason and the survivors unraveled, and I found myself liking them less and less.
The character that came across as the most sympathetic was, ironically, the monster. The monster kept me reading, as I became curious about its origins, its relationship to the human villains, and its fate. Unfortunately, none of these things were answered in a way I found satisfying. Toward the end, the action was so bizarre and ridiculous it was almost comedic, and the ending put me in a bad mood.
As you may imagine, this book contains copious amounts of violence and gore, including mutilation and attempted rape. There is a healthy amount of cursing, mostly the f-word, and some sexual content and nudity.
(Warning: Light Spoilers Ahead.)
Although Jason had enough character to seem real, I never found him admirable, sympathetic, or even very likable. He ignores his girlfriend, ogles his brother’s girlfriend, and lets Frank make most of the major decisions. These aren’t damning characteristics, but they also don’t tell us much about him as an individual. As for the other people in the group… well, Valerie is the girlfriend, Lucy is the sexualized bimbo, and Frank is reckless. That’s pretty much the extent of their characterization.
At first this didn’t bother me, because The Snow and the Darkness is clearly a plot-driven book. The plot kept me reading. Events pile up, one after the other, until the protagonists find themselves trapped in a car in a blizzard with a bleeding woman and a nameless, unspeakable evil right outside their door. I liked this set-up, which created an air of suspense and mystery. However, once the antagonists reveal themselves, a quarter of the way through the book, the suspense dissipates and the gore increases.
Jason and Valerie spend most of the book being passive and reactive. (Valerie extremely so.) Once they do act, however, they show themselves to be horrible human beings. Jason vacillates between doing the right thing and doing whatever he needs to in order to survive. As a result, he is effective at neither. He is morally spineless and incompetent. As for Valerie, let’s just say that when she actually does something, it is one of the most despicable acts of the whole book, and I hate her.
The monster appears a quarter of the way through the book and acts as a dog to the human antagonists, a comparison that endeared me to the monster from the start. Visually, the monster is very unique and doesn’t seem to be based on mythology. On the one hand, that made it hard to visualize, but on the other hand, it made me curious. Was it a supernatural being? Was it an alien? Was it a science experiment? Why did the human villains take care of the monster? Was it actually a monster? That last question, at least, was answered, as I would argue that the monster is the only one to display both bravery and kindness. In my mind, it was the true hero of the story.
As the book entered its third act, it seemed like the mystery surrounding the creature would be addressed. I became worried. So many times, these explanations tell me nothing, and, in fact, bring up more questions than they answer. It turned out I was right to fear. The explanation of the monster was so bizarre and muddled, it sent the book into the deep end of weirdness, from which it never recovered.
(For the curious, the origins of the monster involve a sex slave, drugs, eggs, and a mysterious liquid. And if that explanation sounds incomplete, well, that’s all we’re given. There is no motivation for why the monsters are being grown or any explanation for how the antagonists stumbled upon this process.)
After this, I pretty much lost faith in the book. I kept reading because, according to my Kindle app, I only had 15 minutes left to read and because I still cared about the monster. The climax was so weird that even the main character pointed out how ridiculous-to-the-point-of-being-hilarious it was. It was also gruesome. Just when I thought everything was resolved and happy, it became very unresolved and very unhappy. For no good reason! I felt very sour by the end. What was the book trying to say? That no good deed goes unpunished because humanity sucks?
To sum, The Snow and the Darkness offer fast-paced and gory horror, but at the cost of characterization and internal logic. Although I can’t recommend it, most of the reviews on Amazon are positive, so it could be that I’m just not the target audience. It is free on Amazon, so it costs nothing to download and check out for yourself.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.