My enormous thanks to Catherine Sinow at Dzanc Books for sending me a copy of The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall in return for an honest review.
The Snow Collectors
Haunted by the loss of her parents and twin sister at sea, Henna cloisters herself in a Northeastern village where the snow never stops. When she discovers the body of a young woman at the edge of the forest, she’s plunged into the mystery of a centuries-old letter regarding one of the most famous stories of Arctic exploration—the Franklin expedition, which disappeared into the ice in 1845.
At the center of the mystery is Franklin’s wife, the indomitable Lady Jane. Henna’s investigation draws her into a gothic landscape of locked towers, dream-like nights of snow and ice, and a crumbling mansion rife with hidden passageways and carrion birds. But it soon becomes clear that someone is watching her—someone who is determined to prevent the truth from coming out.
Suspenseful and atmospheric, The Snow Collectors sketches the ghosts of Victorian exploration against the eerie beauty of a world on the edge of environmental collapse.
My Review of The Snow Collectors
Finding a body in the snow is just the start for Henna.
It took me ages to read The Snow Collectors, despite it being a short book because it is so utterly beautifully written I had to savour every syllable, word and nuance of Tina May Hall’s fabulous writing. It’s almost impossible to describe the quality of the prose. It’s intricate and mystical, with an oxymoronic icy fire that simply thrums off the page. I adored every single moment of reading The Snow Collectors. It felt as if I were being treated to a kaleidoscope of metaphor, imagery and meaning that shifted and settled into a mesmerising pattern of poetic description even as it became Gothic and almost vampiric and cannibalistic at times.
The plot itself is fascinating. Based partly in historical fact with Jane Franklin’s attempts to discover the fate of her explorer husband, past and present mingle and blend, foreshadowing and echoing one another in an enchanting tale. There’s mysticism and menace, science and obsession swirling through the plot, and alongside all this is a murder mystery that fulfils the desires of any crime lover too so that The Snow Collectors is a book that defies genre but enthralls every reader. Harbingers of death like ravens and owls, echoes of Dickens, Shelley’s Frankenstein or Stoker’s Dracula and all manner of books from the literary canon swirl through the pages of The Snow Collectors without once being derivative or contrived, making the atmosphere tense and unsettling.
The characters are brilliantly portrayed. Henna couldn’t be more aptly named amongst the references to blood, death and flesh, even as she ripples with imagery of, and links to, water. As the narrative progresses, her connection to Jane Franklin is so convincingly and entertainingly conveyed that I found myself literally grinning with pleasure. I don’t want to spoil the read by saying too much more about character as it will expose the plot, but I loved meeting the people here.
Tina May Hall’s setting is a stroke of genius. Snow bound like the explorer Franklin, Henna finds herself in houses that groan like ships, eating foods that possibly echo Franklin’s diet and wearing clothes that link her to the past. The cold, snow and contrasting heat are described faultlessly, but it is the iterative image of water that is so captivating because if flows literally and metaphorically through the story. Every sense is catered for and the nightmarish, dreamlike descriptions create a landscape that is unparalleled.
I adored The Snow Collectors. It’s riddled with history and truth, fantasy and lies, obsession and compulsion until the reader is as ensnared as Henna in the action. The Snow Collectors is going straight on my list of books of the year!
About Tina May Hall
Tina May Hall lives and teaches in upstate New York. Her collection of stories, The Physics of Imaginary Objects, won the 2010 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. She is the recipient of an NEA grant, and her stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Collagist, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, Wigleaf, and other journals.