The Dead of Winter: A setting in search of characters to care about

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Dead of Winter by Lee Collins fantasy book reviewsThe Dead of Winter by Lee Collins

In this urban fantasy with a twist — set in the Wild West in wintery Colorado — monster hunters Cora and Ben are hired to deal with an unknown beast that slaughtered some wolf hunters in the mountains. As they investigate, they realize that they are looking for a beast neither of them is familiar with. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the evil beasties lurking in them thar hills.

I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy these days for a few reasons. When I think of the urban fantasy subgenre, I think of Charles deLint and Emma Bull, instead of tattooed back-baring weapon-wielding lovelies and the monsters they love. That doesn’t seem to be where most of the publishing is happening. Second, I generally don’t go for a lot of sex in my fantasy, and that seems to be an important plot thread in a lot of urban fantasy — or at least that is what the covers look like. That said, two things intrigued me enough about The Dead of Winter to make me pick it up. First, the main characters are married, which is unusual, and second was the setting. I love the Wild West as a setting. I live in the intermountain west, and there is a certain feel to this area that I think is ignored way too often when it comes to great settings.

Lee Collins gets the setting right. Where he falters is with the characters. Cora is a fairly standard, tough as nails monster hunter who is out to prove that her balls are bigger than any man’s. And then there is Ben. I’m half convinced that Ben is a figment of Cora’s imagination, because no one else interacts with him. The only reason I am not fully convinced that he is a ghost is because she references him to other people and they don’t act like she is crazy. So apparently, he is real, but just… completely irrelevant. Honestly, I’m not sure why he is in the book. He does provide the material for a few softer scenes with Cora, but serves little other purpose.

So, I was losing interest in The Dead of Winter.  Between immaterial characters and a plot that suffered from infodumps and clunky exposition, and the feeling that I wasn’t reading one novel but a collection of short stories, I got about half way through and then Cora describes herself as the “big damn hero” and I lost my patience. If you are not familiar with the phrase big damn hero it’s one of the main catchphrases of the television show Firefly,  which was a sci-fi western, and either as an awkward homage to Zoe, the female fighter character, or just unfamiliarity with genre westerns, it was so clunky that it just threw me completely out of the story. I read a few more pages, put it down to come back to later, and after a week of it glaring at me from the corner and me pointedly ignoring it, I put this wounded horse out of its misery. Wow, how about that for mixing some metaphors, right?

And finally, whoever came up with the tagline “True Grit Meets True Blood” needs to be firmly smacked with a whiffle bat. These are not True Blood vampires. They are not sexy. They are not sparkly. They are firmly in the nosferatu undead camp. Just warning anyone who likes those kind of vampires not to invite these vampires into your bookshelf.

The Dead of Winter — (2012) Publisher: Cora and her husband hunt things – things that shouldn’t exist. When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious deaths, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible, but if Cora is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, she must first confront her own tragic past as well as her present. File Under: Dark Fantasy [ Winter Chill | Small Town Blues | Dead Reckoning | Sharp Shooter ]

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of taglines that don’t apply (or shouldn’t be used in any case.) I’ve never seen True Blood (but I think you’re thinking of Twilight, not True Blood? Doesn’t Twilight have the sparkly vamps?) I’ve read the Charlaine Harris books (True Blood, if I recall, was based on the series) and her vamps weren’t sparkly. They were rather boringly focused on Sookie, but I don’t recall sparkles. They attempted sexy, but failed IMO, which is one of the reasons I stopped reading the series.

    In any case, I am with you on the wiffle bat!

  2. They’re sexy vampires, though. They’re not sparkly but they’re from that same strain (though Harris started her series before Meyer did).

    I would find this book much more tempting if the husband really was imaginary and it turned out no one could see him but the heroine! I love that kind of twist.

  3. May I borrow the wiffle bat quote for personal use as the occasion warrants?

    And why didn’t you tell me this book was this bad before I bought it?

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