A Cold Season

( 1 )


A dark and unsettling tale from a bold voice in horror writing, British writer Alison Littlewood's first novel was decreed "hugely enjoyable—perfect reading for a dark winter's night," by the influential Richard & Judy Book Club. "A scary read that will chill you to the bone," said Library Journal.

After the battlefront death of her husband, a soldier, in the sands of the Middle East, a distraught Cass decides to move to the bucolic village of Darnshaw—a place she once knew ...

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A Cold Season

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A dark and unsettling tale from a bold voice in horror writing, British writer Alison Littlewood's first novel was decreed "hugely enjoyable—perfect reading for a dark winter's night," by the influential Richard & Judy Book Club. "A scary read that will chill you to the bone," said Library Journal.

After the battlefront death of her husband, a soldier, in the sands of the Middle East, a distraught Cass decides to move to the bucolic village of Darnshaw—a place she once knew and loved—with her teenaged son, with the hope that a change in scenery will be just the thing to help her family heal. But the locals aren't as friendly as she had hoped and the Internet connection isn't as reliable as her work requires. Ben begins to display an uncharacteristic hostility. A blizzard strikes Darnshaw, marooning it in a sea of snow, and Cass begins to despair. She finds a sympathetic ear in the person of her son's substitute teacher. But his attentions can't put to rest her growing anxiety about her son and her business. And soon, she finds herself pitted against dark forces she can barely comprehend. The cold season has begun.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Having lost her husband to the battlefields of Afghanistan, Cass retreats with her son, Ben, to the village of Darnshaw. There she expects an idyllic life of comforting smalltown safety. What she actually gets is less a community and more a moral infestation. Ben rapidly transforms under the influence of the malevolent architect at work in Darnshaw; once a lovable young boy, he becomes rude, cold, and menacing. The hoped-for haven is a stalking ground for the worse sort of predator and an arena where the stakes may be Cass’s very soul. The small town that turns out to be a festering hive of dark ritual is a well-established trope in horror; anyone adopting this setting has to find some way to make their tale stand out. But each development in Littlewood’s debut is entirely familiar and predictable, delivering all the required steps in this horrific little dance with nary a flourish. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Littlewood's debut novel takes a young widow and her son back to a town she knew in her childhood. Cass and Ben are finding the going tough in the little town of Darnshaw, where Cass spent part of her youth with her mother and uncompromising father. Although her memories of the town are mostly black, she has inexplicably returned there to give Ben a new perspective on life following the death of his father, Pete, who was killed in Afghanistan. Ben doesn't want to be there, and he makes it clear, particularly when they discover that the mill, which has been converted to apartments, appears to be deserted except for the two of them. And when the pair are snowed in and must walk to the small local school, they find themselves becoming more and more isolated from both the outside world and each other. Soon, Ben has made some new friends, but his behavior becomes outrageous. Cass chalks it all up to his being upset about his father and the move, and she doesn't do anything about his increasingly bizarre actions until a lack of phone service interferes with her business efforts. After losing what appears to be the one genuine friend she might be making in that town, she drags Ben away and tries to walk to another town, only to find that Ben refuses to leave. Later, a series of strange and grisly discoveries confirms that nothing in Darnshaw is as it appears to be. Cass proves improbably slow on the uptake, shrugging off sinister incidents and ignoring her own instincts to the point where it becomes hard, if not impossible, to sympathize with her. Impatient readers will have figured out long before Cass finally connects the dots that she should have snatched the kid and run. Readers who prefer clueless heroines, pointless gore and evil mumbo jumbo will find a veritable feast in Littlewood's debut.
From the Publisher
"A dark and disturbing tale from a bold new voice in horror writing"—Mark Frauenfelder, BoingBoing

"A thick layer of snow hides the sins of a creepy rural village in Alison Littlewood's chilly debut novel . . .an itchy tension-cranker of parental paranoia."—SFX

"Littlewood's fiction is set in a world where the possible and the improbable rub shoulders, and strange stuff creeps through the gaps in out of the way places. She is the real deal, a writer with a unique vision."—TTA Press

"[Alison Littlewood's A Cold Season] was a career defining masterpiece that exuded chills and almost.... hurt, in a frightening way. Hands down one of the year's greatest novels, it was the perfect debut and the ideal introduction to a welcoming worldwide audience... . [She] may have had the most impact on the genre this year."—Matt Molgaard, Horror Novel Reviews

"This is a very spooky story.... Disturbing."—Daily Express

"What makes this novel such an astounding success, is it's as heart breaking as it is frightening, and it's guaranteed to leave an unrelenting knot in the belly.... gripping piece of fiction that draws the emotions of the genre fan taut, and completely tears at the fibers of those who also happen to be parents. . . When it comes to debut novels, Littlewood offers forth a masterpiece that stakes immediately claim as one of 2013's finest."—Horror Novel Reviews

"The novel builds a real sense of foreboding and dread, which creates a chilling reading experience for fans of demonic and religious horror."—Library Journal

Library Journal
Looking to start over after the death of her husband in Afghanistan, Cass takes her young son Ben to Darnshaw, the village where she grew up. While she has some creepy memories from her childhood, it seems like an idyllic place. That is, until Ben starts falling into trances and acting violently. At about the same time, Cass notices the crosses scratched on all the doors in town and begins to discover the dark secrets in Darnshaw's past. VERDICT This creepy, claustrophobic debut evokes classic films and novels, such as The Omen and Rosemary's Baby, in the demonic-horror genre. While these similarities help elevate the book by placing it on the shoulders of giants, they also make the story a tad predictable and formulaic. Cass is an incredibly unlikable protagonist, oblivious even by the low standards of horror-novel characters. She makes unrealistically poor decisions and takes a ridiculously long time to figure out what is going on. Despite these shortcomings, the novel builds a real sense of foreboding and dread, which creates a chilling reading experience for fans of demonic and religious horror.—Peter Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781623650223
  • Publisher: Quercus
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Alison Littlewood's debut novel, A Cold Season, was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, where it was described as "perfect reading for a dark winter's night." Her second novel, Path of Needles, is a dark blend of crime and fairy tales. Littlewood's short stories have been picked for The Best Horror of the Year and The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror anthologies, as well as The Best British Fantasy 2013 and The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 10. Other publication credits include the anthologies Terror Tales of the Cotswolds, Where Are We Going? and Never Again. She now lives and writes near Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

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Read an Excerpt

She swallowed her panic, trying not to think of worst-case scenarios: if Ben had gone outside she might never find him. She brushed away the image of the millpond that came into her mind, inky-black water beneath an acid-green coating.


Cass jumped down the last few steps and her ankle gave, but she recovered and kept going. She went to the entrance and pressed up against the glass. Light spilled onto the snow outside, turning footprints into deep black arcs. Cass grabbed the handle and had started to turn it when the light behind her went out.

She stopped. Think.

She waved a hand, triggering the lights. The footprints reappeared. She recognized Ben’s, but her own prints were there too, facing in both directions, crisscrossing. Ben’s could have been from this morning, earlier today, even yesterday. But the lights—the lights at her back had already been on when she came down the stairs.

The lights went out again. She turned. The ground-floor hall was dark now, but it felt present somehow. Had the lights really been on when she came down? She wasn’t sure, but she thought they probably had been. It felt as though they had.

She mouthed his name as she headed away from the front door. The hall lights came on with a low buzz, but just before they did, she saw a pale moonlit glow coming through one of the doorways: the empty apartment. Apartment 6. That must be where Ben had gone.

Cass took a deep breath and padded softly along the hall to the apartment that lay beneath her own. The door was open, and when she looked in she saw Ben at once. He was sitting motionless on the floor, muttering something over and over. It made her think of an elderly person trying to remember something long forgotten.

Ben didn’t turn around as she stepped toward him. The light was dim, the air granular, and Cass’s ears rang. She couldn’t make out what he was saying.

“Ben,” she said, but her voice cracked. She cleared her throat, took a step closer. And then she froze.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 18, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Good story, frustrating telling

    The placation of the son who develops some oh, psychotic behavior, was so frustrating and throw-the-book across the room dumb that the tale seriously lacked for me. It was a good story but the mother/son relationship spoiled it for me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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