31 December 2019

Review || Snowball by Gregory Bastianelli



Hardcover, 288 pages
January 16th, 2020 by Flame Tree Press
A group of motorists become stranded on a lonely stretch of highway during a Christmas Eve blizzard and fight for survival against an unnatural force in the storm. The gathered survivors realize a tenuous connection among them means it may not be a coincidence that they all ended up on this highway. An attempt to seek help leads a few of the travelers to a house in the woods where a twisted toymaker with a mystical snow globe is hell-bent on playing deadly games with a group of people just trying to get home for the holidays.


 

Our initial account is that of a group of travelers who are stuck in the middle of a snow-covered deserted highway. It seems innocuous enough, though discouraging for those stuck.  Snowball, however, is one of those books that takes a sharp left turn on you when you aren't expecting it. There's a snowplow up ahead, but where has the driver gone? And why is there blood in the cab?

As the snow deepens and no other help in sight, the motorists start to focus on coming together to combat the feeling of isolation created by the storm. When they congregate with the elderly Volkman's in their RV, weirdly the older gentleman suggests they all share their "worst winter memory", because this is obviously what you should do while trapped in the middle of a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. Mr. Volkman shares a  remarkably disturbing Krampus story of his childhood, Francine's account of the killer known as "The Iceman", and in each and every dark story — shared or unshared.  These stories, while shockingly horrible, seem entirely unrelated...until they aren't. 

Each of the characters has a disquieting history and as they share these events, the emotional depth of each is revealed. You may not like all of the characters, but there's no denying that they are well-formed and thought out. What starts as a leisurely read interspersed with glorious gory bits, Snowball then truly does just that as the momentum builds and all the dots start connecting. A simple stranding in a blizzard turns into something more nefarious and dastardly. 

There's a great storyteller feel to Snowball. If it wasn't set in the dead of winter, it would be like sitting around the campfire telling urban legends. However, there is no warmth in Snowball. It's true to its name in many ways. The cold seeps from the pages right into your bones. We've all felt the isolation of a heavy snow when the roads become impassable and a stillness settles over all. Bastianelli captures this feeling and wraps it up with claustrophobia, helplessness and desperation. 

The second half of the book changes from atmospheric and tense to something very different, yet just as fun. Krampus, killer snowmen, an undead toymaker, and a snowglobe  might just make this strange and creepy romp the most fun I've had with a book in a long time. 

I don't rave about books very often but this was the perfect holiday read for someone who decorates the Christmas tree and then sits down and watches Rare Exports. It was everything that I wanted and expected it to be. For those who like a little holiday irreverence with your horror,  Snowball puts the slay in sleigh ride.