by Darryl Sloan, fantasy (2006)
Midnight Pictures, $7.99, ISBN 0-9543116-1-2
Chion is a natural disaster-themed thriller. Mr Sloan helpfully explains that the title is Greek for "like snow". Indeed, what happens in this story is that in January 2003, fourteen-year old Jamie Metcalfe discovers that it begins to snow one morning while she is at school. This incident is not that unusual, or so it seems until those who are unfortunately in contact with the snow realize that this isn't ordinary snow.
The "snow" behaves like a super glue type of adhesive substance. It can't be easily melted and everything that touches the "snow" becomes quickly and firmly stuck to it that the only way it can be freed is by force, and this usually means leaving behind part of it that is firmly embedded in the snow. Which could be a finger. Or worse. When some kids trip and fall face down into the "snow"... yikes.
Oh dear, it is soon revealed through the emergency TV broadcast that the area around Clounagh Junior High School isn't the only one affected by this "snow" fall. The entire UK and Scotland and a small part of France are affected too, leaving millions dead and more trapped inside buildings, cars, and wherever it is that they happened to be when the "snow" hits them. Can you imagine being stuck in a car as it keeps snowing and knowing soon that you'll be out of water and food?
Chion focuses mostly on Jamie and the girl he has a crush on named Tara as they and the rest of the staff and students of Clounagh Junior High School watch and deal with a world that will go mad in the following next few days. The main characters of Chion are teenagers and I can easily imagine that some people would view this book as one aimed at young adults but there is nothing dumbed-down or kiddie-like about this story. Some of the scenes here are not for the faint of heart though. Not that they are violent or gruesome, but because they drive home the evil men can do in situations such as this one. A teacher is driven to insist that the students starve so that the teachers can eat, for example. There are more disturbing scenes here, but I'll let the reader discover them for herself.
Not that this story is all about sitting back and reveling in how we can be our worst enemies, of course. There are also scenes of human nobility here and there to counter the more unpleasant scenes. Jamie and Tara even get to play heroes in this story. I'm not sure about getting Jamie and Tara to play the lead characters in the sequel to Titanic because, come on, high school crushes - how many of them will last after graduation, you tell me. But their love story is a welcome human foil to some of the more spine-chilling scenes in this story.
Chion, I find, is a most gripping read. I didn't know what to expect when I opened this one, despite having heard many good things being said about this book in the past, and I was not sure that I was up to reading such a story in light of the recent events in my part of the world at the time of writing. However, the author has me at the edge of my seat from the first page of this breathtakingly-paced tale and I couldn't stop reading until I hit the last page. What was I worrying about again when I started reading earlier? Come to think of it, I'm glad it doesn't snow in this part of this world. This story is that disquieting, I'd probably give an involuntary shudder if I have to step out in the snow any time soon. Chion is a really good read.
If you are interested in reading this book, Mr Sloan is selling them on eBay as well as from his website. The electronic version of this book is available too for free as a PDF file. More details as well as the free book download link is at http://darrylsloan.wordpress.com/chion/ - really, go and take a look.
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