The Winter Storm

With The Winter Ghosts, Kate Mosse has crafted an eerie tale of wrongs from the past coming to light in an unearthly way... a concept at which she rather excels. Fans of Mosse and her books will be delighted to learn about her latest novel -- but they might feel a touch disappointed when they find that The Winter Ghosts is a much less substantial epic than Labyrinth and Sepulchre. Sure, it certainly counts as a novel in general terms, but in Mosse terms it feels almost like a novella. It has a quick pace, a small cast, and a straightforward story where two lives damaged by wars come together to bring the past into the light of day so each can find a release... and while all of those things could be seen as positive items in one light, they just aren't the things that I want when I look to Kate Mosse and her rich and elaborate historic novels.

Our narrator is Freddie Watson, a young Englishman whose revered older brother died in World War I, leaving Freddie's life empty and his parents' lives even emptier, as they contend with the loss of their heir and their near-constant disappointment in the spare. After scraping by for years, Freddie endured a full on breakdown in his early twenties and now, he's still not quite set to rights, but at least he's not still institutionalized. His parents have died and rather than feel any remorse at their passing, he only feels relief. Now he simply makes by on his grief and simple means -- and The Winter Ghosts opens upon Freddie motoring through France, without an exact course so much as a general idea of touring the region and its castles. A sudden blizzard nearly sends his car careening off a precipice, but he manages to traipse through the wilderness and find a small town that seems quite untouched by the weather that nearly cost him his life. After checking in to a small bed and breakfast, he's invited to the celebrations for a local festival -- to which he eventually decides to go. He doesn't quite read the map correctly, so he trusts his instincts to help him find the way -- and sure enough, he stumbles upon a welcoming-looking building with a festival cheerily buzzing inside. What he finds there in the rough hewn clothing of the locals and the company of a beautiful girl... well, it's more than Freddie could ever imagine finding.

The Winter Ghosts is a decent enough tale, bringing an interesting bit of history to attention, but the fact remains that the reader is always waiting for Freddie to catch up and figure out what's going on. Sure, he doesn't have the book title to clue him in, but it's a very long wait for such a small novel. Freddie is a somewhat sympathetic character, but I quickly grew a bit irritated with his failure to understand what was happening. (I also grew a bit irritated about how belabored a point his grief becomes even early on... such stress on the point was totally unnecessary and only served to irritate me a bit as I wished that we'd move on from the set up and reveal more while other things happened, as opposed to front-loading all our Freddie knowledge. Yes, we get it, George was awesome and Freddie has totally ceded the spotlight of his life to his dead brother. Uh-huh. Can we keep going?) Perhaps we needed a slightly unhinged young fellow because he would assume he was losing his mind as opposed to figuring out that life in a Kate Mosse novel frequently yields centuries-old corpses.

The story rather loses the creepy factor by keeping the reader waiting for the grand revelation -- we got to the party so long ago that now we don't much care any more and when there's nothing else that's going to surprise us in the end. When the main descriptive features of the novel include the word ghosts, tragedy, war, romance... well, I suppose it isn't hard to screw that up, but it's hard to make it dull. The history bits were the most engrossing! (Perhaps not a shocker for history fans, but for those who preferred those other four buzzwords, it might be.) I do always appreciate the fascinating historical details that Kate Mosse digs up and presents to her readers -- perhaps more than anything, it's this sense she has for really interesting history that keeps me coming back to her novels. Alas, The Winter Ghosts probably won't win her any additional fans, but if you treat this as a taste of something to tide you over until her next work, well, then I hope we don't have long to wait.

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