In her follow-up to last year’s highly acclaimed Seed, horror author Ania Ahlborn puts on a real monster show with The Shuddering (June 18; 47North), an old-school creature feature in novel form. When a host of sarcastic 20-somethings stage a reunion at a secluded winter cabin, a devastating blizzard traps the d-bags indoors, forcing them to circle the wagons against an onslaught of attacks from ashen, long-limbed monsters straight out of 1988’s Pumpkinhead.
The creatures are introduced in a riveting prologue (“nothing but skin and teeth”), but once Ahlborn establishes her white bread characters and winter woods setting, the plot devolves into a slow plod toward a final confrontation. We know the monsters are there, we know our heroes will be forced to fight them, but Ahlborn insists on saving the good stuff until the finale.
Essentially, there are no twists or turns (unless you’re inclined to count unplanned pregnancies and pronouncements of unrequited love), just page after page of tedious, melodramatic bullshit. For the first half of The Shuddering, tension and suspense sit squarely buckled in the backseat. (Ahlborn occasionally breaks from the central perspective to introduce and immediately kill a peripheral character, in a sort of “Cujo effect”. But without any real stakes behind the violence, these seem like awfully half-assed attempts to goose the action.)
But then, suddenly, things start getting good. Once the characters are fully aware of their plight and begin to mount a defense, The Shuddering magically transforms from hackneyed rich boy melodrama into a stark, unsettling tale of snowbound survival. Things get dirty, things get nasty, and when Alhborn finally forces her ninjas to knuckle up, the book really delivers. It’s 100 pages of good old-fashioned monster magic tacked onto the back end of some super boring St. Elmo’s Fire fan fiction.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Skulls