Hello again and welcome back to Haunted Hardbacks, a horror review blog! As winter officially rolls in, we're featuring three snow-and-ice themed horror books today.
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A note on content warnings: Generally, it can safely be assumed that characters in these stories are unsafe. Reviewers may highlight specific events in the books. For more content warnings, check the author's website.
Title/Editor: Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories edited by Neil Christopher
Authors: Aviaq Johnston, Richard Van Camp, Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Thomas Anguti Johnston, Repo Kempt, Jay Bulckaert, Gayle Kabloona, Cara Bryant, & K.C Carthew
Content Warnings: Racism and mentions of residential schools, plague and pandemic, animal gore and death, body horror, addiction, grief
Summary: Ten Indigenous authors all based in northern Canada compile frightening short stories set near the Arctic Circle. From monsters to madness to murder, there are all types of hauntings for all types of horror fans.
Thoughts: I’m shocked that this short story collection isn’t more popular! It includes almost every subgenre of horror — specifically cannibalism, survival stories, mythological creatures, sci-fi, zombies, and the supernatural — so there’s something for everyone. I enjoyed every contribution, but my favorites were “The Wildest Game,” “Strays,” and “The Haunted Blizzard.” Indigenous authors write horror unlike anyone else. What made this book extra special is how almost every story featured the Inuit language. I read quite a bit of Native literature for part of my job, and Inuit writers are incredibly underrepresented.
Several of the writers also tackle current issues, proving that horror isn’t limited to 200-year-old ghosts and such. You’ve got parallels to already-horrifying residential schools! You’ve got a pandemic upending the world (one so similar to COVID that I was shocked to discover this book was published before it happened)! You’ve got climate change unearthing monsters and artificial intelligence going too far! I love this trend and am excited to see how horror as a genre is modernized to tackle 21st-century problems and include marginalized groups.
Title/Author: Bishop by Candace Nola
Content Warnings: Death, potentially stereotypical tropes
Summary: When Erin and her daughter Casey go missing in the cold Alaskan wilderness, brother Troy is determined to find them. Enlisting the help of a local search crew and a hermit named Bishop, they set out to find the missing women before something worse gets them first.
Thoughts: If you’re looking for something short and sweet to read this winter, this might be it. If you’re a fan of The History Channel’s Alone TV series, this might be for you. Combining survival and horror, we as readers find ourselves following Erin, Casey, and Troy’s perspectives as they try to find each other. This shifting point of view gives us a deeper understanding of how terrifying this particular neck of the woods is, but also provides alternating eyes on what’s stalking them.
While perhaps not a completely culturally accurate depiction of the antagonist, the antagonist’s hunt-and-stalk trait is effective for growing suspense. Not only this, but Bishop is Algonquian and exhibits supernatural traits that are explained via a backstory that I find myself a little wary about with regard to accuracy and cultural respect. That being said, you may want to proceed with caution, but as far as the rest of the story goes, nothing stood out to me as particularly ferocious or terrifying.
Title/Author: Where the Dead Wait by Ally Wilkes
Content Warnings: Cannibalism, death, dismemberment, murder, racism, sexism, starvation
Summary: An eerie, atmospheric Polar Gothic novel following a Victorian English explorer in search of his lost shipmate Jesse Stevens. The rescue mission disturbs more than the landscape: Day's past has never stopped following him, and the dead find solid footing on the ever-shifting ice.
Thoughts: William Day is profoundly haunted. And he has terrible taste in men. If you also read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and got obsessed with Robert Walton, this is the book for you.
Day is an unreliable narrator and he knows it. He's unmoored, and nothing surprises him more than his past beginning to haunt the people around him. Stevens is his guiding light. Stevens' spiritualist medium wife is here for much the same reason. They both believe strongly in Stevens...and that belief makes space in the world for something that shouldn't be.
Throughout the story, the ice and landscape feel alive: not exactly malevolent, but unwelcoming to this uninvited crew of white explorers. In contrast we have Mrs. Stevens' companion, a Native girl named Qila, raised in a white orphanage, who has wanted to see the arctic for her entire life. It's so clear from her and the Native guides on both expeditions that the haunted men are bringing their own ghosts with them. Their decisions, greed, and hubris are what give space for awful things that happen.
Recommended for anyone looking for an atmospheric ghost story, or who enjoys a good reckoning.