Various parts of the UK are facing snow right now. If you’re a snow-lover but haven’t had any yet, then fear not! Charlotte has made a list of the top books you can read to evoke the silence, majesty, and purity of the snow – combined with something unspeakable stalking through it, of course.
The Terror by Dan Simmons
Before it was a major AMC series, The Terror was a 900+ page book from Dan Simmons which mixed fact and fiction to tell the story of the doomed Franklin expedition.
In 1845, Sir John Franklin takes two ships to try and find the Northwest Passage – his own flagship, HMS Erebus, and HMS Terror, commanded by Captain Francis Crozier. Powered by coal-driven steam, it seems impossible that these two giants of the sea won’t succeed in their mission.
But both ships and all their crew disappeared, never to be seen again. The Terror reveals how a vicious entity from the dawn of time stalked Franklin and his crew, resulting in the eventual demise of everyone aboard.
You can’t get a much more snowy atmosphere than the Artic, making this the perfect book for all chionophiles. Although Simmons’s demon creature is terrifying and unstoppable, the hazards faced by the crew as they try simply to survive in extremely hostile conditions all combine to make this a riveting read.
Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood
Leah is looking for a new life to escape memories of the tragic death of her husband and son. With Christmas looming, she moves into her new property: a run-down Yorkshire farmhouse called Maitland Farm that badly needs renovating.
But as snow blankets the landscape, Leah discovers that while she might have left behind one set of ghosts, she’s come to live with another set. There are dark secrets at Maitland Farm and Leah has to lay to rest not only her own past but that of the farm’s former inhabitants too, by seeking the truth of what happened there.
I put it to Alison that snow at Christmas was supposed to be magical but she makes it an essential part of the haunting in Mistletoe. Why did she choose to focus so strongly on this particular element of the festive season?
There’s something about snow that fascinates me: the way it changes everything, makes the familiar strange, the silence it casts over the world. It’s beautiful and atmospheric and just a little bit mysterious, so for me it seemed a natural choice to write about a winter haunting. I also love the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas, and although white Christmases are becoming rare, for me there’s still a natural association with snow and spectral happenings.
White by Tim Lebbon
First comes the Ruin. Society crumbles. Then comes the snow. A handful of survivors flee to a Cornish mansion where they find themselves under siege from the things now inhabiting the snowscape outside. Except they don’t know what creatures are stalking them, since all they see are fleeting, terrifying creatures out of the corner of their eyes.
I loved the sense of isolation that imbued this story. The characters can see a village just over the crest of the hill, but their attempts to reach it are undermined not just by the creatures stalking them but also by the hostility of the snowbound world which quickly exhausts any attempts to walk through it.
I asked Tim why he chose to end the world in snow rather than flood or darkness, like so many others have done before him. The reason I chose a snowscape as a background for the novella was because of its isolating nature. I wanted the story to feel really claustrophobic, so even though they’re staying in this manor house, there’s no real escape for them.
Snow’s also transformational. The landscape after a storm is so different from what it was before, and I wanted my characters to feel confused, dislocated, and vulnerable. Even back then I was using nature as a driving force in my writing!
This novella isn’t very long but it packs a hell of a punch. The vulnerable characters are picked off one by one in attacks that are as bloody as they’re swift. Not one to read on a snowy day while you’re in the house on your own.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
In London, January 1937, 28-year-old Jack is poor, lonely, and desperate to change his life. So he jumps at the chance to join an Arctic expedition. Spirits are high as five men and eight huskies leave Norway for the remote, uninhabited bay of Gruhuken, where they will spend the next 12 months.
But the Arctic summer is soon over and darkness starts to creep over the land. Gradually, everyone else is forced to leave until only Jack remains. But it turns out that Gruhuken is not as uninhabited as the party thought. Jack discovers that he’s not alone and that something stalks the darkness outside, something that craves only death.
The natural comparison to make is with The Terror above: both novels have historical settings, both offer some extra danger lurking in an already hostile environment. The first distinction to make is of course length, with Dark Matter being a substantially shorter read! But the tone of Paver’s book is different too. Whereas The Terror focusses on the maritime chain of command, the protagonists in Dark Matter have come together of their own volition and are all counted (almost) equal.
The struggle for survival is still a key part of Paver’s story, but it’s softer in all respects and the blossoming relationship between Jack and one of the huskies is just so touching. She also goes into examine class tensions between the men, with Jack being the only member from the lower classes, yet still integral to the mission.
There’s much less blood and gore here than in The Terror; instead, Paver prefers to build up atmosphere, to linger on the gloom and isolation Jack experiences, making this a distinctive and chilling read.
Winterlong by Steven Savile & Steve Lockley
When the snow comes it brings more than just the cold. With the country caught in the grip of a blizzard, the residents of an isolated nursing home can only sit and wait. But only one of them knows the horror of Winterlong.
Old people get such a bad rap in fiction: geriatric characters are either disposable or a burden. So it was great to see the residents of a nursing home being feisty and proactive. Savile and Lockley manage to build a sense of unease right from the beginning.
The story notes at the back indicate that this novella grew out of a short story called Snowbound in which the two authors explored the idea of a snow-bound world terrorised by killer snowmen. A few more short stories followed but they wanted to wrap things up with an Alamo-style conclusion, which is what Winterlong turned out to be: a siege, set in a care home, with ice-cold zombies knocking at the window.