Tag Archives: horror

Review: Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist

In Let the Right One In, Lindqvist wrote a fresh take on vampires that could stand alongside Dracula in a book-world overrun with vampires. In Handling the Undead, he reinvented zombies completely; they rose from an electrical storm, not a virus, and they shuffled around like real living dead rather than chasing after flesh. With his newest novel, Harbor, he assures his place as a master of horror alongside the likes of Stephen King.

I didn’t like Harbor as much as his first two novels but that’s not to say I didn’t like it. I did. It just didn’t strike the same immediate chord with me as his other works. For instance, Handling the Undead is largely about grief and letting go, something personally relevant to me at the time I read it, as my father had just passed away. But it was scary, haunting, and engaging.

Harbor takes place in a small town built on a tiny island in Sweden called Domaro, next to a smaller island that houses a light house. It’s a community where everyone knows everyone, except for the Summer tourists, who come and go with the seasons. During some winters, the waters freeze and they can ski over over to the light house.

One day, Anders and his wife Cecilia take their daughter Maja out to the light house. She’s six years old, in a red snow suit, and it’s a lovely day, until Maja vanishes without a trace. Her tracks stop suddenly in the snow and there’s no sign of her. She’s never seen again. Anders and Cecilia split up due to the pressures of losing their child. Two years later, trying to fight his demons and alcoholism, Anders moves back to the island, where his grandmother also resides.

The story is told over generations with little events and a strange history that show something supernatural or at least weird is afoot on Domaro. Other people have vanished on the island, and weird things start happening. Because it deals with ghosts and history, the story moves back and forth throughout time to give the reader the entire picture of life on the island and what’s caused this weird anomaly where the Ocean has such fiendish powers. It can feel a bit chaotic. I like that kind of storytelling when it works, and I feel it does, but I can see why people might get annoyed with it and put it aside.

Anders sees signs that someone else has been in his little cottage, but never sees anyone. He becomes obsessed with finding Maja, although he hasn’t got clues. The ensemble cast includes Simon, a retired illustionist who has a secret of his own (Simon is my favorite character, hands down, and not just because I picture him as GOB–he’s far more competent. Also, this book mentions The Final Countdown although the scene it plays during is not funny. Someone send Lindqvist Arrested Development DVDs, stat.). And Ander’s grandmother, Anna-Greta, who knows more than she originally lets on.

Lindqvist indulges his love of Morrissey and the Smiths, by having teenagers who run around quoting them instead of speaking, and manages to twist that into something scary as well. It’s cool that he can take figures that are familiar to most of us and make them dark and frightening.

It’s Lindqvist’s take on a small town horror conspiracy. It works, but it lacks the mind-blowing reinvention he’s known in the US for. I hope they continue to translate his novels into English, and I hope he keeps writing.

CopperCon Panels: Meet Carrie Vaughn

At this year’s CopperCon in Phoenix, Arizona, author Carrie Vaughn was the guest of honor. On Saturday, there was a panel held to get to know Vaughn, who’s authored more than ten books including the bestselling Kitty Norville series, about a werewolf talk radio host, and After the Golden Age, a superhero novel.

Carrie Vaughn

Vaughn’s always been a writer. It wasn’t until 8th grade that she realized not everyone enjoys writing stories.

Her popular series, about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts her own late-night supernatural advice show, wasn’t an instant sell to publishers. It took four different novels until she was signed. At one point, Vaughn decided to let Kitty speak her mind. She put quotes around all of the snarky, sarcastic, or rude thoughts that her character had, and all of sudden things worked. Instead of Kitty watching two other people converse, she was part of the conversation and moving the action along.

When asked why she choose to make Kitty a werewolf, rather than a human or a vampire or something else, she says it was a very deliberate decision. She had the concept of a midnight DJ and had to make the call. She chose to make her a werewolf because other than horror movie monsters at the time she began writing, they didn’t get a lot of attention, and anyhow, she’d “had enough of vampires.”

“I wanted to confront the mythology directly,” she explained. Besides, werewolves often get shorted in fiction, or used to.

Vaughn talked about her other stand alone novels, saying she’s very proud of After the Golden Age. It’s about a woman whose parents are famous superheroes, but she has no powers. Still, she tries to save the world with her one skill: accounting. Vaughn’s mother is an accountant and really likes that novel.

Then she revealed her secret hope for a future spin-off to the Kitty Norville series (which she says does have an ending she’s working towards). She’d like to do a Buddy Cop series featuring Cormac, whom she originally intended to just be a one-off character in the first book.

It took Vaughn ten years to sell a novel from the first time she tried, so she encourages aspiring authors to keep at it. She thinks maybe there’s some level of insanity to people who are driven to write and that she, at least, would have kept doing it even if none of her books was ever picked up.