Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
I’m generally not a fan of “Kindle First” books. When I get the email I’ll see if anything looks interesting, but generally my deliberation ends in “meh….no thanks.” This month I checked the email and the cover art for The Winter Over
(kudos to Edward Bettison Ltd
jumped off the page, and I thought I would give it a chance.
The book is a typical “throw a bunch of people together, make some bad stuff happen, and give them no chance to escape” thriller. A bit better synopsis of the book is:
The story begins with a mysterious death and a cover up, which is then forgotten for most of the rest of the book. Then some crazy things start happening (lights mysteriously going out even though the facility has triple redundancy, sewers clogging, suicides, etc) that make it obvious a person in sabotaging equipment and pushing peoples buttons. However, the people that are supposed to be running the show just seem to brush it off without doing any investigating at all.
Eventually people start freaking out.
Some people stop taking their medication, start talking to the wind, and disappear into the tunnels under the station.
Guns come out (that we never knew were there before and really had no reason to be).
“That’s correct,” he said, getting ready for the storm. “I don’t know how the need was overlooked, but we were left with one sat phone on base. And that one is missing.” There’s only one satellite phone in the facility. Read that again. In one of the most unforgiving locations in the world, there is only a single phone that can be used to contact the outside world should they lose electricity and need help. Only one phone. Nope, don’t believe that.
The ending felt like a late night action movie on cable that has had all of the sex scenes, integral dialogue, and important parts taken out. Consequently, when you’re watching you kind of can put the pieces together but in the end its just a mess of explosions and a trail of bodies.
Then, just when Cassie gives up and lays in the snow to succumb to the elements, she is saved by the Russians. Shes a real deal Mary Sue, and apparently she was at the research facility because the people pulling the strings thought that she might be just that.
The corporation (because all corporations are evil) running the show had a mole psychiatrist among the staff running experiments on the side trying to find someone or multiple people with an advanced salutogenesis trait. The author notes that he took liberties with this, and salutogensis doesn’t mean in the real world what he made it mean in the story.
For those that didn’t read the spoiler and want a more vague outline, the basis of the book revolves around Cass Jennings, a likable but introverted engineer who has spent the summer on a research station in Antarctica trying come to terms with the demons of her past. The crew of the station, herself included, are making final preparations to spend the winter. While the research facility is about 30 kilometers from another similar facility owned by the Russians, it might as well be on Mars. Staying from November to March in the frigid conditions of Antarctica means darkness, wind, and no way to survive more than a few hours out in the desert of snow. In other words, if trouble hits they are on their own. Not even the Russians can save them.
For most of the book we are wondering what Cass’s backstory is. We are fed tiny bits of it throughout the novel until finally, almost at the end, the pieces come together. Initially I thought when I discovered the backstory, it would be meaningful to the rest of the adventure, but it wasn’t. It was a not so subtle way that the author used to keep me turning the pages.
Throughout the story, the villain is kept shrouded in mystery. No one knows who it is who is really pulling the strings, not even the folks who think they are pulling the strings. I was fairly certain I knew who it was by the halfway point, but it wasn’t until the last couple of chapters that it became official. And as the antagonist’s motivations were revealed I found them ridiculous, overly pretentious, and very hard to swallow. Needless to say by this time I was happy the book was coming to a close.
The silver lining to this novel is the authors writing. Matthew Iden is able to effortlessly paint us a picture of what living in Antarctica is like. The loneliness and frigid conditions coupled with introverted people living there not because of their ability to survive but because of their scientific knowledge. The dialogue was smooth, and most characters had their own voice.
The plot was made of swiss cheese (there were holes), the first half of the book seemed to drag on, and there were unnecessary characters. I’ve heard good things about other books Iden has written, so maybe this one was just a dud.
The end of the book has an authors note, where Iden admitted to taking certain liberties with the psychological aspects of the story as well as locations (there is no actual Russian Research Station near the south pole), and the human relationship between health, stress, and coping. This doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the book however, as I knew it was a work of fiction.
Bottom line: The prose gave this book some polish, but the story is still a turd.