Disclaimer: I was sent an ebook copy of this book as an ARC reviewer by the publisher.
“Winter is coming”, said Sean Bean in Game of Thrones that one time.
And he was right, winter was indeed coming, and now it is here. I write this review on New Year’s Day, 2022, I was supposed to get it finished weeks ago, but several events derailed my plan, and I must apologise to SKullgate Media and all of the contributing writers for the bloody delay.
Nevertheless, here we are, back on the old blog again, how I have missed throwing my ramblings up on here, and to that one poor reader whose comments were stuck in “pending” for about six months… sorry!
Anyway, today we finally get around to reviewing Skullgate Media’s winter anthology, Winter Wonders, compiled by the ever hard-working CD Storiz and Chris Durston. The premise is very simple: each short story can be about pretty much anything, as long as it is themed toward that coldest season of all. Each writer follows this brief nicely, with various approaches taken and many different narratives formed as a result.
Let’s take a look at what we got as a result, shall we? I will choose a handful of my favourite stories and, without and spoilers, talk you through my thoughts on them, lucky you eh!
Cocoa Weather – Debbie Iancu-Haddad
Debbie is one of Skullgate Media’s foremost contributors, and her writing is always powerful and well-realised. Cocoa Weather is no exception here, as Debbie explores a dystopian future in which the remainder of humanity lives inside great domes, insulated from the world beyond. Whatever caused this to happen is never explored, but the pacing and atmosphere actually benefit from this omission, we all like a good mystery after all!
The story follows a young girl called Hanna, whose grandmother tells her tales of a season called winter which once existed beyond the dome, but is not catered for inside its atmosphere-regulated carapace. Hanna is enchanted with the tale, and the thought of feeling such a thing as cold, and so drags her long-suffering friend along on an adventure to get their fill of some chilly joy. The world under the dome is a joy to explore, the characters are nicely fleshed out and the ending has a nice element of drama to it.
The Frail Flittermouse & the Glacial Glindodder – Tessa Hastjarjanto
Tessa is a Skullgate alumnus and also writer of Tales of Lunis Aquaria. I read the latter last year and enjoyed it, Tessa’s stories have a very naturalistic, almost shamanic theme, and Flittermouse continues this theme into a winter wonderland most commendably. This tale follows Lavora, an apprentice witch exploring the snowfields around her mentors’ home in search of the titular Glacial Glindodder flower.
Lavora’s task was already difficult before a blizzard sweeps in, forcing her to take cover in a cave without her prize. While avoiding a sleeping bear, Lavora is joined by several animals also seeking shelter, encounters a strange presence and befriends an injured bat, all before venturing back out and continuing the search once the storm breaks.
My description doesn’t really do it justice, but the naturalistic theme is really strong here and I loved Tessa’s descriptions of the animals and their interactions with the protagonist.
Under the Ice – Cormack Baldwin
This is the first of Cormack’s stories I have had the pleasure to read, but will definitely be adding his other works onto my (fifty miles long) TBR list. Under the Ice has a lovely cosmic horror vibe, and also features one of all-time worst fears of being trapped underwater, so naturally, I was very engaged with this one from the off.
Under the Ice follows an arctic researcher named Abigail, who is fed up of her isolationist existence way up at the top of the world and fancies going home to the States to mingle with humanity once more. Before this happens, however, she is tempted by one last job, its details hazy but the proposed payout worthwhile. After meeting her crew of fellow scientists and surly captain Niklas, she is taken by boat to a poorly-maintained deathtrap of a submarine, which then descends into the inhospitable, inky blackness of the Arctic sea.
What they encounter down there would be a big old spoiler, so I shall keep my mouth shut, suffice to say that it makes for a very interesting ending indeed.
These are just three tales I have plucked from a very generous selection, and each and every one of them is worth your time and attention. While I wouldn’t have necessarily set out to read some of them based on the description alone, I am glad I did, because reading should be about exploration as much as going over your old favourites over and over again (looking at you, battered Discworld paperbacks), and even the ones that really weren’t my cup of tea at least got me thinking on their themes, there’s always something to take away from a story if you are open-minded, after all.
So I guess my final thought on Winter Wonders is that it lives up to its name and that Skullgate Media continues to give independent writers (and new writers like myself) a platform from which to get their work, their passion projects no less, read by the world at large.
Get this one downloaded/ordered in paperback and give it a read, you won’t be disappointed!