“A grudge against death is an ill grudge indeed.”
Christmas at Wheeldale Inn by Gemma Amor is the holiday horror I didn’t know I needed.
The novella opens during a Christmas Eve snowstorm in the moors of Victorian England. Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox battle the harsh weather, traveling westward in a horse-drawn carriage, away from London and the threat of debtors’ prison.
Mr. Wilcox’s unscrupulous business dealings and lavish lifestyle have finally caught up with him. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wilcox grieves over a terrible loss, much worse than that of the family fortune.
The blizzard ultimately gets the best of the traveling Wilcoxes, forcing them to seek refuge in the Wheeldale Inn, where the friendly innkeeper and his silent son are mourning their own tragedy. The only other resident of the inn is a corpse, whose funeral and burial have been postponed indefinitely by the harsh winter conditions.
Confinement at the Wheeldale Inn forces the Wilcoxes to confront the troubled reality of their broken marriage and determine whether they face a future together. Meanwhile, their isolation and fevered mental states plunge them into conditions ripe for horror.
Christmas at Wheeldale Inn deals with several heavy themes, including domestic abuse, gaslighting, and overcoming grief. I am amazed by how much Gemma Amor packs into this slim volume and how she can ultimately find hope and autonomy amid a blizzard of despair and oppression.
Gemma Amor’s writing in Christmas at Wheeldale Inn is perfect, as always. Every word is precisely chosen, without anything superfluous. Amor’s prose captures the spirit of Victorian Era literature so beautifully that I felt compelled to read several passages aloud, just to hear the lovely cadence of her words.
Christmas at Wheeldale Inn is a modern-day Victorian classic. The most obvious comparison is to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, who brought a didactic form of spookiness to the Christmas season. But Gemma Amor’s psychologically unsettling approach to Victorian supernatural fiction is more in line with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, especially in walking the line between horror and insanity. Moreover, Gemma Amor’s melancholy tone and beautiful prose in Christmas at Wheeldale Inn evoke the best of Thomas Hardy, particularly Jude the Obscure.
Gemma Amor is a literary chameleon, adapting her writing style across sci-fi horror (Full Immersion), occultist epistolary body horror (The Once Yellow House), Daphne du Maurier-style Gothic fiction (The Folly), and even a Victorian Christmas tale (Christmas at Wheeldale Inn). In every case, Amor brings a level of authenticity and stylistic perfection that blows my mind. Regardless of the genre or subgenre of fiction, Gemma Amor is always able to probe great emotional depths while telling gut-wrenching stories.
Christmas at Wheeldale Inn makes the perfect holiday gift for the horror fan in your life. (And don’t forget to treat yourself to something special too!)