I recently finished Cormac McCarty’s Blood Meridian and was in the mood for something a little more accessible. (As much as I marvel at McCarthy’s style, it takes effort for me to digest). A novel about monsters sounded like it’d hit the spot, and my interest had recently been piqued by word of the new title White Death, which boasted a cool looking cover that featured a gnarly sabre-tooth creature roaring from the darkness. I’d never read anything by Christine Morgan, but I’d seen the author’s name pop up in indie writing circles. I heard she was mailing out signed paperbacks for a very reasonable sum, so I bought one on impulse.
I’m glad I did.
Here’s the plot synopsis from Amazon:
January 12, 1888
When a day dawns warm and mild in the middle of a long cold winter, it’s greeted as a blessing, a reprieve. A chance for those who’ve been cooped up indoors to get out, do chores, run errands, send the children to school … little knowing that they’re only seeing the calm before the storm.
The blizzard hits out of nowhere, screaming across the Great Plains like a runaway train. It brings slicing winds, blinding snow, plummeting temperatures. Livestock will be found frozen in the fields, their heads encased in blocks of ice formed from their own steaming breath. Frostbite and hypothermia wait for anyone caught without shelter.
For the hardy settlers of Far Enough, in the Montana Territory, it’s about to get worse. Something else has arrived with the blizzard. Something sleek and savage and hungry. Wild animal or vengeful spirit from native legend, it blends into the snow and bites with sharper teeth than the wind.
With this book, I got three monsters for the price of one: First, there’s the wanageeska, which is the creature depicted on the cover and could best be described as a snow god of Native American legend. Angering this god is what leads to the second monster: A historic blizzard of such scope that it eats small towns and spits them out in frozen pieces. In the grip of this apocalyptic ice-storm heroes are made, and villains are unmasked, giving rise to our third monster—humans—and the monstrous acts they’re capable of committing
White Death is essentially a tale of the tragedy and perseverance endured by the townsfolk of Far Enough, Montana, who are blindsided by the storm and by the beasts within it. The tale unfolds over the course of only a couple days, but a large ensemble of characters is used to explore the event in episodic nature from multiple perspectives. It took some mental organization to keep track of the big cast, but this is a minor gripe and necessary to convey the scope and toll of the tragedy. And Morgan really shines with her characterization. Although high in number, we aren’t dealing with cardboard cutouts here. She has imbued the people of Far Enough with dreams and regrets, secrets and longings, skillfully crafted so we care for these individuals, pulling for some and rooting against others. The grueling circumstances the townsfolk undergo feel more real as a result. The stakes are high, the suspense is palpable, and some of the personal journeys depicted are downright heart-wrenching. Without such strong characterization the story structure would be tough to follow, but Morgan pulls it off like a champ.
It’s a quick read, too. The chapters are short, the pacing is brisk, and the story sucks you right inside the descending blizzard. The actions scenes have muscle, and the descriptions of the tortuous weather conditions will have you cranking up the thermostat and counting your blessings.
In addition to the topnotch writing, one noteworthy aspect of this book that I rarely find in indie publications is evidence of strong research, shown with attention to details of the rural setting and the sparse lifestyle of the era. Morgan threads these elements seamlessly and economically into the plot, providing just enough color to bring the time and place to life without bogging down the rhythm of the story. Other writers, take note!
For a blind buy, this book was a total surprise and a real winner. And now I have a signed copy. Rad!
White Death is published by Bloodshot Books. Get it here: