Title: The Dead of Winter
Author: Chris Priestley
Genre: YA Gothic Fiction
Publication Date: January 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
ISBN-10: 1599907453 (Bloomsbury Kids)
ISBN-13: 978-1599907451 (Bloomsbury Kids)
Reviewed by: Macie
An orphaned boy, a desolate house, and a poltergeist with a terrible itch for revenge…
After Michael’s parents die, he is invited to stay with his guardian in a desolate country house. He begins to suspect something is not quite right on the day he arrives when he spots a mysterious woman out in the frozen mists. But little can prepare him for the solitude of the house itself. His guardian is rarely seen, and there’s a malevolent force lurking in an old hallway mirror. As the chilling suspense builds, Michael realizes that the house and its grounds harbor many more secrets-both dead and alive.
Quick & Dirty: Michael’s unnecessary overdramatic speech patterns detailing the events after his mother’s death grew tiresome to read, but I was surprised by the twist ending.
Opening Sentence: My name is Michael: Michael Vyner. I’m going to tell you something of my life and of the strange events that have brought me to where I now sit, pen in hand, my heartbeat hastening at their recollection.
Recently orphaned, Michael Vyner is alone in the world when he is taken under the care of the man his father died to save, Sir Stephen Clarendon. Once he arrives at Sir Stephen’s estate, Hawton Mere, Michael experiences a phenomenon no one will explain like loud knocking behind a permanently closed panel and a ghostly woman alone in the darkness. At first those around Michael act like his experiences were just in his imagination, causing Michael to detest living at Hawton Mere with his unusual guardian and sister, Charlotte. Later on, we find out Michael’s experiences are not as impossible as those around him first claimed to be.
I understand the character of Michael is obviously under a lot of stress and sorrow, but he acts petulant and immature when the strange phenomenon he witnesses is not believed immediately. His choice of vocabulary and syntax structure seems to me like a boy wanting to sound more mature than he really is, but it just comes off as wordy and somewhat annoying to read. In the end of the novel, Michael has aged and matured a lot, but is still just as long-winded.
The novel itself is fairly short, but the only thing that kept me reading was finding out about the mysterious happenings at Hawton Mere. In the end, I still am not quite sure what caused the house to be so evil, but maybe that was intentionally left open for the reader to interpret as they will. Like I said before, the ending was a twist I did not see right off, but the vague evil power given to the house was never properly explained.
Sir Stephen is a quiet and reserved man with a troubled past and frightful history in the house he lived in his whole life. Emotionally scarred as a child by his father, Stephen is prone to emotional fits and physical infirmity. His sister Charlotte takes care of him and the house. Stephen and Michael have more in common than Michael originally thought, and in the end, Michael understands Stephen better. Charlotte is nice to Michael, and fiercely protective of her brother and the house. Only when Michael is named to inherit Hawton Mere does Charlotte show a different side.
Overall the novel was interesting enough to figure out what was causing the paranormal activity in the house, but the style of writing was just too overdone for my tastes. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys gothic novels and quick reads.
The corridor I was now in didn’t lead anywhere. I could make out an arched doorway at the far end, but it had been blocked up years – possibly centuries – before.
The darkness was encouraged and enriched by the wood paneling that lined the walls at either side. It was as high as my shoulder and a black as ebony. It was grim and gloomy, but no more so than anywhere else in the house, and yet once again I had the urge to run – to run and never stop until I was miles from this place.
I was turning to go back up the steps when I heard another short volley of knocks. This time the sound seemed to be coming from beyond the paneling. I leaned forward and tapped a panel and it sounded with a distinctly hollow rap. The wall was evidently not solid behind it.
‘Hello?’ I called again.
There was no response but I felt sure that there was someone there – in whatever space lay beyond that panel. I had a growing dread of that place. The air in the passageway seemed fetid and poisoned and I was about to turn and get back to the main body of the house when something touched my shoulder and I cried out, leaping away. I turned to see Jerwood standing there.
‘I didn’t mean to startle you, Michael,’ he said. ‘Forgive me.’
I slid down the wall to sit on the stone floor and catch my breath.
‘There’s some kind of secret chamber behind that panel,’ I said.
‘Yes, there is. It’s a priest hole,’ he said, and seeing my look of confusion continued, ‘It dates back to the sixteenth century and the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This was the house of a Catholic family and they hid Jesuits here – agents of the Pope in Rome. Those were harsh times. Capture would have meant bloody torture on the rack and a slow and gruesome execution.’
‘It’s a fearful place somehow,’ I said, looking back at the panel.
‘Yes’ said Jerwood. ‘I rather think it is. How did you find it?’
‘I heard banging, sir,’ I said. ‘It sounded like it was coming from inside.’
‘Banging?’ said Jerwood, frowning. ‘But I was only yards away and I heard nothing at all. Besides, I don’t think it could be coming from inside there – ‘
‘Perhaps you think I’m a liar,’ I said, standing up indignantly. ‘But I’m not! I did hear banging and I did see that woman on the road!’
Jerwood crouched down and examined the panel.
‘I apologize for offending you. I do not think you’re a liar, Michael,’ he said. ‘But these panels were painted over years ago. Come and see. The paintwork is intact.’
FTC Advisory: Bloomsbury USA provided me with a copy of The Dead of Winter. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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