"Snowball" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Flame Tree Press
Written by Gregory Bastianelli
2020, 256 pages, Fiction
Released on 30th January 2020
It is a shame Snowball was not released in time for the Christmas market, as it has a dark Jingle Bells festive centre to it, being set on Christmas Eve with a group of travellers heading home for the holiday in atrocious snowy conditions. In the opening sequence, Toby Hodge is driving his snowplough over an almost completely blocked New Hampshire road, a job he has had for years, when he spots a reindeer blocking the route, or so he believes. Stopping and exiting his truck to investigate, he stumbles upon something freaky in the snow, and it is not Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Terrified, he retreats into his safety of his cabin, which is now stuck fast in the drifts, and locks the doors whilst the blizzard blocks the view from his windows. Whatever prowls outside lurches closer and surrounds his vehicle; water begins to seep into the front of the engine and poor Toby wishes he was at home with his wife drinking mulled wine. This first chapter is the only time we see Toby alive and is a fine way of getting the (snow)ball rolling!
This sets the scene for much of the rest of this chilly novel, which is set over a solitary night. The storm continues to rage and the story focusses on eight vehicles which become stuck behind the snowplough with no way of overtaking. Initially the story jumps from car to car, with all the characters getting stressed and cabin-crazy in their vehicles, praying that help will soon arrive and these scenes are skilfully handled. However, as the weather worsens, they buckle in, band together, and try to help each other out. The drama features a mixed bag of characters, ranging from young lovers, pensioners and stressed parents with kids. They have one thing in common; they realise they are well and truly stuck and are not going anywhere soon and might as well cancel their plans of watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time!
Ultimately the overarching plot of Snowball is just too simple: The stranded people team up, drink hot chocolate, and hunker down in an RV van and begin to tell each other scary stories. Their tales of woe centre around their worst winters and Christmas memories, and as events unfold, the group slowly begins to realize they have tangential and tenuous connections to one another, which leads us, rather unconvincingly, into in its final parts with an ending which is hard to swallow.
Much of this is fairly obvious and does not contain anything new, with Snowball going into a standard ‘story within a story’ format and we are presented with a series of gruesome tall tales, ranging from a folklore Krampus childhood tale to a nasty one about a guy who gets his face skinned in a skiing accident. Once these stories began to be trotted out, much of the atmosphere built in the first half of the novel begins to dissipate, as they are too much to swallow and take seriously. On the other hand, the scenes where some of the characters are battling against the elements in the biting weather carry more threat and menace than the horror within their tales. Likewise, the palpable fear of the travellers becoming edgier and more fearful carry more weight than the supernatural angle.
I don’t know if any adult readers will be genuinely freaked out by killer snowmen; perhaps they should best be left within the realms of the Doctor Who TV show, because it really fails to hit the fear button here. Introducing this supernatural element, in the opening chapter, into the novel is probably too early, and even if it is vague, lets the cat out of the bag way too soon. Doing battle with various monsters from fairy-tale myths and legend just does not hold enough suspense and the longer the book went on, my interest dwindled.
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