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Book Review: Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow by Ray Cluley

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“Cluley’s prose is as stark as his setting, his haunting imagery sparkling like sunlight on ice.”

The debut volume from Spectral Press’s new Theatrum Mundi imprint is an atmospheric piece of dark fiction from Ray Cluley. Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow tells the story of Gjerta Jørgensen, first female member of the  Slædepatruljen Sirius dogsled team which patrols northern Greenland. The narrative alternates between two different periods of Gjerta’s life. The main story concerns Gjerta’s patrol with her companion Søren and life on the ice with their huskies; scenes told in flashback tell of her childhood living with her father in the forest, where the ‘darkteeth’ reside. These flashback scenes reveal the demons Gjerta is running from, but even as far north as she has travelled, it might not be far enough…

Saying more about the plot would ruin some of the surprises Cluley has in store for the reader, but what can safely be talked about is the wonderful atmosphere of the novella. In part this is because Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow comes across as being meticulously researched, without overloading the reader with extraneous details. Every little detail of life on the arctic ice is there to build the sense of haunted isolation, from the chill beauty of the Northern Lights above to the grim reality of Gjerta and Søren having to shoot injured huskies who can no longer pull the sleigh. There’s a constant sense of isolation from the normal concerns of humanity, and in both strands of the narrative the fact that Gjerta comes across empty human dwellings only highlights this. There’s little other life on the ice other than the polar bears, a threat more glimpsed than seen; in Cluley’s hands they seem a stark and primal symbol of death rather than mere animals

And it’s death that stalks the narrative; both the threat and reality of death are a constant in Gjerta’s life. Death is what caused Gjerta to flee her childhood and home, but death is also what she flees to. The climax of the story dovetails her past and present narratives assuredly and with superbly handled ambiguity; the reality of what the ending means is something the reader glimpses through the shifting flakes of a snowstorm and will have to interpret themselves.

Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow is tightly written. Cluley’s prose is as stark as his setting, his haunting imagery sparkling like sunlight on ice. There is only a limited cast, consisting of Gjerta, Søren, and Gjerta’s father and mother, but all are strongly drawn. The novella format means there are no tangents pursued, no sub-plots to break the frozen mood.

As a bonus, the book contains some extra stories, all suitable wintry in tone. All of these are well worth reading and make the purchase of Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow even more essential. In particular the story ‘Turtledove’ is a powerful and tragic Christmas story that ranks up there with the best this talented author has written.

Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow is a classic piece of arctic horror to rank alongside Dan Simmons’ The Terror and Michel Paver’s fantastic Dark Matter. A brilliant start for the Theatrum Mundi imprint and another home-run from Cluley.

JAMES EVERINGTON

Publisher: Theatrum Mundi
Ebook (75pp)
Release Date: January 2015

Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow is available now from Spectral Press.

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