The House of Frozen Screams by Thana Niveau

February 5, 2021

When Liz and Nick Holland buy Wintergate, an isolated, long-empty Victorian seaside house, they believe they have found the perfect home.

However, it isn’t long before it begins to have an unsettling effect on Liz. She hears the sound of crying babies in the dead of night, and a sinister presence seems to be stalking her, making her doubt her sanity.

Wintergate has a dark secret.

Something evil lives there, and Liz must unravel the house’s twisted history before she becomes its next victim.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I read a haunted house novel. It’s strange because I am fascinated by the history of buildings. I can’t say I believe in the idea of haunted houses exactly but there is something endlessly fascinating about the thought that locations retain a sort of memory, an echo of the past. If this is a violent, bloody echo then who knows how that can affect someone’s mental state?

The House of Frozen Screams starts off in a pretty traditional fashion. A young couple, eager to find their own place, happen upon Wintergate. It feels like a dream come true and before you know it, they are all moved in looking forward to a happy future. It’s not long before things start to sour, however. The relationship between Liz and her husband Nick becomes strained as Liz begins to obsess about the mysterious building. Wintergate is a quirky, isolated Victorian location full of character and possibility*. Liz becomes the focus of a force within the house. Dark deeds have left their mark on Wintergate, and that rage and pain needs an outlet. The obvious choice is the building’s newest occupants.

What follows is a fascinating dissection of a character. You see Liz falling apart in small increments. Initially, odd happenings are jokingly brushed off but as the sense of tension mounts, the cracks within Liz’s fragile psyche get easier and easier to spot. Her mental state deteriorates with each passing chapter. As the situation goes from bad to worse Liz’s existence takes on an almost dream-like quality where reality and fantasy are interchangeable in her mind.

Just when I thought I had a handle on what was going on the final chapters spiral away from your standard haunted house fare into something altogether more gruesome. There is something far more primal going on. Events escalate to a bloody splash of visceral body horror that has the potential to upset even the most hardened horror fans amongst you. The easily offended may wish to look elsewhere. Things get properly icky, but by this point, I was far too invested to look away.

Niveau also peppers the narrative with Wintergate’s backstory and we start to discover where the malevolence that surrounds the site has come from.  Liz becomes almost an active participant in this history as she has brutally vivid visions on the house’s dark heritage.

There is part of me that is quietly pleased when I read a book and it is set in a location that I’m familiar with. I have family in Portishead which is but a stone’s throw away from Clevedon where the book takes place. I’ve seen some of the places described. I’ve walked along the seafront and seen the Victorian pier. I can confidently confirm Niveau’s descriptions are bang on the money.

The House of Frozen Screams is going to be too much for some readers. There are some genuinely dark, potentially triggering moments. Everyone has a line when it comes to how much horror is too much horror. For me, Niveau deftly dances right up to that line but never crosses that boundary. I can’t tell you I enjoyed The House of Frozen Screams; enjoy just isn’t the right word for a book like this. I was most definitely enthralled and creeped out in equal measure. I reckon that is about the best compliment you can give to a good horror novel. That frisson of being chilled to the bone, unsure if you can read the next page but part of you knowing that you are powerless to resist. I love it.

As you can no doubt tell The House of Frozen Screams has left a distinct impression on this reader. The characterisation is well executed and the evocative writing makes Liz, Nick and the other denizens of Wintergate feel perfectly realised. Well played Thana Niveau, well played.

The House of Frozen Screams is published by Horrific Tales Publishing. Highly recommended.

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel is the soundtrack to The Haunting of Hill House by The Newton Brothers. Delicate and subtle one moment then full of jarring disquiet and menace the next. I’m all about the feelings and this feels like a perfect partner to Niveau’s writing.

*I can totally relate. If money were no object this is exactly the sort of place I would love to live. I’ll take the risk that I could end up dead, or worse. Cookie-cutter modern homes are just not my style.

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