by Sharon Gosling
Published on 9th February 2017 in paperback by Stripes Publishing
A Red Eye Series
The Stromberg family move from the urban citylife of Stockholm to the grand Storaskogen plantation in the remote part of Northern Sweden. Their unwilling teenage son isn’t keen on the move away from his friends and isn’t exactly thrilled to find their new home comes complete with a group of ten year old students on a field trip, their teacher Tomas and a creepy old housekeeper named Dorothea. Even his own father Martin has an awkward exchange with nature-lover Tomas after he outlines his plans to cut down certain parts of the forest which includes a patch of land home to trees over hundreds of years old. Tomas’ passionate conservation of the old forest threatens Martin’s financial plans but when the snow sets in early, Tomas is the least of his problems. The Stromberg’s will need as much wood as possible to heat their new family home but out in the forest, something strange lurks…
Get your cushion at the ready as Sharon Gosling’s young adult horror thriller novel FIR sends Scandinavian chills with a twist. Like The Shining, the book tells a tale of a family living in isolation and with no mobile phone signal and limited access due to their remote location, it’s only a matter of time before they begin to regret their decision. Told from the perspective of their unnamed son, at least I get the impression the main character is a teenage boy, we go through all the emotions and upheaval of having to leave one life to start another, especially one full of uncertainties. It appears our main character has little interest or knowledge about the move except for the fact that his parents made the decision and he has to go whether he likes it or not. Having house guests in his new abode is something he was unprepared for and it seems his parents didn’t bank on having a live-in housekeeper either even if they had expected the children and their teacher. With no other kids his age living nearby, or any neighbours for that matter, and with the transition from studying at a state school to becoming home schooled, it looks as though his social life is well and truly out the window. The only thing to do around the house, apart from keeping the rowdy kids entertained, is to snoop around the grand house to learn a bit more about the place his parents now call ‘home’. But something keeps bugging him. He keeps seeing children outside, then they’re gone and he’s convinced the old forest, the one that Tomas loves so much, is consciously alive. Could the isolation be getting to him or is there truly something sinister at work?
I love my horror novels and there’s nothing I love more than a novel that instantly grabs you and pulls you into its narrative. FIR is such a tale with its fluid storytelling and informal approach allowing teenage readers as well as older ones to instantly get to grips with the story at hand. The protagonist seems a likable kid who has a penchant for rock and metal music, something which I could instantly relate to with their appreciation of band Tool, and is your typical teen: sulky at times but still well behaved. Breaking the forth wall at times, writing as though we are actually a partner in crime to the lead character, allows the reader to feel included in the strange experiences our protagonist encounters, both inside the plantation home and in the old forest. The horrors themselves are manifested through terrific use of scene setting with Gosling perfectly describing the environment with such ease that you can visualise it as though you were there yourself. The physical horrors are just as terrifying as the atmospheric ones and, though it’s a pretty mild tale compared to others I’ve read, there’s enough here to send a shiver or two down your spine.
FIR is a blast to read and I absolutely stormed through the 357 page novel in a day thanks to the flowing use of vocabulary. You can feel the tension mount as the days pass at Storaskogen with the stress translating well through the text. Our character’s venture into the forest with his father is where things begin to get interesting as he witnesses first-hand the strange sensation emitting from the forest as though each of the trees has a soul of its own. The way in which Gosling describes a half-dying tree, propped up by its peers, brings such a sadness to these living, towering organisms that you can’t help but sympathise yet fear for what might be in store for someone who profits from their deaths…
Simple to digest with characters you can actually empathise with makes FIR a modern, young adult horror hit.