"Hard Winter" is a mix of sci-fi and horror, and author Neil Davies does an excellent job of keeping the tension and suspense at high levels, resulting in a fast-paced, thoroughly entertaining novel. But it's not all about the plot. The characters are well-drawn, believable and easy to care about, especially Norman, who struggles hard to change and adapt to his new reality. If you like post-apocalyptic fiction, this book is a must read.
I've come to believe that mystery is the greatest driving force of fiction...and it's clear that Neil Davies gets it. Definitely intriguing and a very great ending! This story was extremely gripping and totally unpredictable. Loved it! Keep it coming Davies!
Let me confess to a bit of bias. I grew up in Nebraska, smack in the middle of the great Midwestern plains of the United States. They have hard winters. Sure, when I was a child I enjoyed sledding and building snowmen, but the older I got the more I hated winter. I grew to hate cold weather and despise snow. The year that I got off work and could not find my car because it was buried beneath a snow drift is the year I moved away, never to return.
So, a dystopian horror novel set in a future gripped by a nuclear winter really does sound horrific to me. It's my idea of Hell. Author Neil Davies does his job and makes this world come to bone-chilling life. He put me there, amidst the ragtag remnants of society surviving in cast off overcoats, foraging for their daily existence. I also found myself identifying strongly with the protagonist, a man in his mid-fifties with no idea how to survive in a world so different than the one he had grown up in.
Norman Leonard had always been a bit of a misfit, no special talents, no particular aptitude for survival, not particularly social, and certainly not a genius. In other words, he's just like most of us should we find ourselves cast into a situation where we have to actively fight for survival daily. We'd be lost; or at least I would be. This is what drew me into this book so strongly- I felt like I was reading my own journey through a future I would despise.
As I read Hard Winter I was continually reminded of two earlier masterpieces of survival: Richard Matheson's The Shrinking Man and George Stewart's Earth Abides. In The Shrinking Man, not only does a man find himself shrinking, his world itself is shrinking, because of his inability to deal with the larger world around him. He even tries to find acceptance in a community of dwarves, but is even rebuffed by them. The same thing happens to Leonard in Hard Winter. At first he seems to be coping by holing up in an abandoned building with his wife, but events happen to take even that small world from him, and when he finds another society to join, they cast him out. He even starts losing parts of his body, in effect, shrinking.
By nature, Norman Leonard is a passive man. He reacts to things, only taking action when he's forced to. It takes a lot of skill as a writer to make a passive character engaging, and Davies does it with ease. The tale is told in first person, so we're treated to a lot of internal dialogue, and again, it's to author Davies' credit that Normal Leonard is such a rich and compelling character. I didn't just believe the character, I WAS him.
As Leonard is thrust through harrowing situations in this terrible environment, he learns a valuable lesson. As much as he wants to believe he can survive on his own, he just can't. This is where the similarities to Earth Abides came into play for me. In Earth Abides a small group of survivors have to learn how to rebuild society in a world foreign to them. In Hard Winter, Norman Leonard learns the one quality needed to rebuild society- trust. It's a lesson hard learned.
Hard Winter is the story of a world in transition, literally, and it's the story of one man in transition. Neil Davies made this world, and this man, come alive for me. That's the highest compliment you can give an author. Thank you for this story, Mr. Davies, I look forward for more from you.
I have only one small complaint, and that is that the ending seemed a little abrupt. I wanted a couple more pages added to the denoument to flesh out the ending.
I really like the use of the main character, he is not a typical hero, but over time he (Norman) grows into his own. He starts to care about other people and less about what is in it for him. We follow along on this journey and it is a really good read. If you like post apocalyptic stories, then check this out. I hope Neil Davies will write another book and continue this tale. This book is 100% CapeCodMediaKing Approved.