A Snowy Horror Thriller

Author: Ania Ahlborn

Ryan and Jane are having one last hurrah at their childhood cabin high in the Colorado mountains before the sale is finalized. While Daddy dearest isn’t their flavor of the month, they still have some happy memories at the cabin. This is also their chance for everyone to get together and to resolve old traumas. Ryan is getting ready to move to another country, after all, and Jane is still recovering from her recent divorce.

Jane brings her best friend, Lauren, and Ryan surprises Jane with her old high school-crush, Sawyer. This would be the perfect time for the meant-to-be couple to rekindle an old flame. The problem? Sawyer brought his girlfriend, April.

So, basically you have an isolated group of people, all of whom have issues with one another, several unresolved love-triangles, and something outside going bump in the night.

And now, to the monster. These isolated forests are haunted by a particular kind of beastie, one that reads a lot like a wendigo (although the term is never used.) These baddies only come out while it snows, and unbeknownst to our bickering heroes, the monsters have already stacked up quite a gory body count. All you need now is a fight and a storm, both of which are rumbling on the horizon.

It’s the classic set up, reminiscent of my beloved Until Dawn. We have a beautiful cabin, isolation, people who aren’t paying attention, numerous near misses, and relationship DRAMA, all with the big bad lurking outside and biding its time. My husband, who listened to the audiobook with me, was hooked by the cranked-up action, the tooth-and-nail fighting that quickly settles in and stays forefront in the story. Me – a little less so.

First, to the love story, which takes precedence over the creatures. I didn’t care for any of the characters, except the occasional sympathy for April, the beleaguered new girlfriend. April is unwelcomed from the start, and her own reticence (probably because it’s totally obvious her boyfriend is pining for the host), just makes the situation sadder. While everyone hates April for existing, I had the opposite reaction. Is it her fault that her boyfriend is unfaithful? Is it her fault that Jane is actively trying to split them up?

Image by Caleb Buse from Pixabay

That brings me to Jane. Early on, she admits that even during her wedding, she hoped to make Sawyer jealous, hoped that he would come and stop the ceremony in the style of numerous rom-coms where the right one bursts in and rescues the love-lorn bride at the altar. This made me hate Jane, who went forward with her own wedding, all the while knowing she loved another man and was essentially using her husband to get this man’s attention.

Sawyer, the object of love, is also morally reprehensible, although if I reveal the why of that, I will ruin a big part of the story. Just trust me that when he and April fight, there is more than enough reason to loath the weak willed, indecisive, selfish Sawyer. Ugh. Don’t even get me going.

By the time the monsters start to make their presence known, I was hoping that they would eat each of our characters (except April) slowly, preferably with a lot of pain and teeth gnashing. Not good, because I think that the author wanted us to empathize with our star-crossed lovers, or at least really enjoy the complicated triangle dynamic. Don’t even get me started on Ryan and his insta-romance with Lauren. You cannot fall head-over-heels in the space of thirty seconds. Come on.

The monsters are the second disappointment. While the pace is snappy and on point, the gore visceral and stomach churning, the fighting sequences extended and written with care and realism, the monster’s story is weak. We never find out what they are or why they are suddenly making a stand. My wendigo theory at the beginning left me hoping for some cannibalism and the characters (at least a few) finding themselves transformed or transforming. That didn’t happen. Instead, we get our far more usual band-of-heroes relentlessly and stupidly fighting, being picked off one at a time, and making some shockingly bad decisions. B-horror level bad decisions. Like separating. And having fights and walking off. And starting on one course of action, setting it up meticulously, and then abandoning said course of action for NO APPARENT REASON.

The hubby enjoyed the thriller-like rapidity of the action and the way The Shuddering was always going-going-going. And that is fair. The book doesn’t stop for long. Honestly, as we were listening to the Audible, I began to drift off. So much action made me distracted; it started to have a samey feeling. Now maybe this was just my mood, and I did see the quality of what the author was doing and marveled at her skill for keeping the pacing consistent, on edge, and moving. Written creature features usually fail at this, but not here.

All in all, I enjoyed reading The Shuddering and will most likely check out author Ania Ahlborn again in the future. However, I wasn’t as in love with this story as others, however, and I still maintain that the characters were a selfish bunch who really, really deserved to get eaten slowly in the wilderness. And I still stand by the fact that the magic of the monsters is missed here. What are they? Why are they coming out of the woods now? Are they former humans, transformed wendigo style, or something else? Where do they go when the snow stops falling? So much unanswered potential.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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