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Onyx reviews: Snowblind by Christopher Golden

Snowblind is a cold book. It takes place during two blizzards separated by twelve years, and Golden does a convincing job of conjuring up chills: both physical ones related to the weather and psychological ones because the storms that hit the small New England town of Coventry bring with them more than snow, ice and wind.

In the opening chapters, Golden introduces a host of characters whose lives change forever when a snowstorm sweeps through Coventry one night, cutting the town off from the rest of the world. Some people won't survive and others will go missing. There's hardly a person in town who isn't touched by tragedy and loss. The deaths are bad enough, but how so many people could simply disappear is a mystery they all have to live with.

A dozen years later, another major storm is forecast, which unsettles everyone who endured the previous blizzard. People start behaving erratically and everyone has a short fuse. The dynamics of many relationships have changed in the intervening years. Families were ripped apart. Couples who seemed to have everything going for them are fighting. People blame themselves for not being there for those who were lost: a husband who didn't make it home to his wife, a son who wasn't there for his mother, a brother who saw his sibling carried away by something in the storm.

Nervousness, guilt and bad memories aren't the only things responsible for the odd behavior of certain characters, though. Something larger is at play, and the other residents of Coventry will have to figure out what's going on and discover ways of surviving the impending storm. Souls may be at risk, and the foe seems as insidious and dangerous as any of the more familiar tropes of horror. Acts of heroism and sacrifice will be called for as the temperature plummets and the snow accumulates.

There are a lot of characters packed into this relatively brief novel. It will undoubtedly draw comparisons to books like 'Salem's Lot, and it even features a blurb from King on the cover. It's rare to encounter a book that might have better if it were longer: a little more time spent with the characters before their lives are destroyed might have been helpful in garnering more sympathy and reader identification with them.

Golden never explains the origin of the entities within the snow, nor why they only plague Coventry. It's an interesting decision, and perhaps a wise one. He doesn't even explicitly brand them as evil. In a sense, they are like wild animals doing whatever is necessary for their survival. Though they are certainly adversaries for the human characters, they are no more worthy of blame for being what they are than a pack of wolves or a swarm of piranhas. The people of Coventry aren't being punished for some implied failing or weakness. This isn't a great moral battle between good and evil. It's simply a contest for survival.

The book could be described as a ghost story or a novel of possession. It includes all of these facets and more. Some of its more interesting aspects deal with the way the victims of the long-ago storm reassert themselves.

Snowblind builds to a multi-front battle against the creatures that come with the storm. In some conflicts, it seems like there's no defense against these entities—they can get at the residents of Coventry through even the smallest gaps in a house. In others, though, they're relatively easy to outrun or defeat. They possess teeth, certainly, but not the ineluctable fangs of vampires.

The war is over almost as quickly as it starts. Here, too, the book might have been a little longer. When exactly does a blizzard end? In Coventry, there's apparently an on/off switch that says now there's a storm...and now there isn't. This is probably meant to give the crisis a definite concluding point, a deadline the townspeople need to attain, but it feels artificial.

On the whole, though, Snowblind, Goldn's first horror novel in a decade, is a book best read with the lights turned down low and the wind howling around the eaves outside. The final paragraphs may remind readers of Pet Sematary. Chilling, indeed.

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