Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Ania Ahlborn’s The Shuddering might make you a little more leery of entering the woods when it’s snowy about! Ryan Adler (an ambitious adrenaline junky) and his twin sister Jane (a schoolteacher), grew up quite privileged. Jane is reminded of this when her best friend, Lauren (who grew up in a trailer), is awestruck by their not-so-little “cabin” in the woods. This is supposed to be a last gathering of old friends and new as Ryan prepares to move to Europe for his job. Sawyer, who made up a trio of friends with Ryan and Jane in their youth (and who dated Jane in high school) has come with his girlfriend April. One of the reasons Ryan was sure to get Sawyer there was that he hoped to bring Sawyer and Jane back together. He hadn’t anticipated April’s presence. The group starts to hear odd sounds outside, and Ryan’s Husky Oona seems kind of freaked out. Then some creepy critters–who are very, very hungry–show up.
The group of three old friends is interesting. Sawyer definitely doesn’t fit in with Ryan and Jane, but because they all grew up together, they all get along despite that. Unfortunately since they don’t have that shared history with April, they (unconsciously) shut her out. For April’s part, these are not the kinds of people she’s used to spending time with, and she doesn’t handle that entirely well. With the exception of one part of April’s characterization (which is in the spoiler section at the end of this review), I loved the characters. Even a couple of guys trying to get out and plow the snow have a surprising amount of personality.
The critters in this creature feature are tall, gaunt, obviously starving, and disturbingly intelligent in certain ways. It makes for a fascinating game of cat and mice. The author builds up the tension quite beautifully, and I was hooked through the whole thing.
Content note for a little sex and some occasional gore.
SPOILER WARNING: Like many creature-features, this book starts with the deaths of some characters we’ll never hear about again. It’s done unusually well in this book. Even just the brief internal thoughts we get from the characters’ heads turn them into real people you can care about for those moments. I also had a real problem with April’s characterization. She’s made out to be the “crazy girlfriend” stereotype, with only tiny little tidbits to indicate she’s even occasionally a halfway reasonable person. I’m sorry, but when a pregnant woman finds out her fiance/the father of her child is still in love with his high school girlfriend, she has every right to freak out. I ended up feeling like the author was trying to force the reader to dislike April, which I object to. Luckily this was pretty much the only thing I disliked about this book. (Although, the ending is a very familiar trope.) END SPOILERS