Monday, 18 June 2012

Book 52 of 2012: Fire & Ice

Having finished Dubliners I had a bit of a debate about which ebook I would follow it up with. I’ve got several review copies on the virtual ‘To Read’ pile but as the last two ebooks I’ve read have been disappointing and depressing, respectively. So after a bit of consideration I decided to go with Patty Jansen’s Fire & Ice, the first book in the Icefire trilogy. I’ll admit that part of the reason for my choice is because I was craving fantasy. Mr Click’s promised me the first few books in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series and the title of this was close enough to satisfy me temporarily.

Fire & Ice is a fantasy novel set which follows Tandor, an ‘Imperfect’ young man who was banished from his country due to his royal blood as he tries to recruit other Imperfects for a mission which will allow them to regain control of the City of Glass. At the centre of the city is the Heart, which gives out icefire, a type of magic in the region which creates Imperfects and which they are able to manipulate. Although there still remains a young Queen on the throne, the City is largely ruled by the Eagle Knights and Imperfects are abandoned at birth to prevent them making use of the icefire and possibly attempting to seize power. Tandor has been rescuing them and sending them away to live with families far from the city as part of his plan but the Knights have taken them away with some plan of their own.

As well as following Tandor, Fire & Ice also follows the young Queen, Jevaithi, who has a secret of her own and also Isandor, one of the children Tandor rescued who, despite being Imperfect, has made it into the Eagle Knights with only his friend Carro knows his secret.

I really enjoyed this book. It made me think of Game of Thrones at times, I think mainly because the action takes place in a frozen wasteland. There were also elements of the story that made me think of The Golden Compass and I think there’s a dash of Star Wars in there too. Ironically, after reading so many fantasy books last year, and attempting to stay away from reading too many again this year, I can’t help but find myself really craving them, so this book came along at just the right time for me, in between all the classics and crime books.

The way that things were explained in this book was quite good. Certain things, like the icefire or Imperfects would be mentioned at first and then gradually expanded upon which gave you time to figure it out. Some fantasy books have great chunks of exposition explaining how things work in this particular world, which can get a little boring, especially if it’s coming in the middle of some action.

By the same token, the world itself was very well created. I got the impression that it was taking place somewhere like the Steppes of Russia. It was explained that proximity to icefire caused a lowering of the temperature so most of the land inhabited by this story was snowy. There was a good balance of technology as well. Chevakia, where Tandor was raised, has no icefire but they have trains and less ice and snow; the Outer City and City of Glass previously had higher levels of technology, powered by the icefire but following the overthrowing of the royal family all technology was removed and abandoned. I’ve probably done a poor job of explaining it here, but in the story I didn’t find myself questioning it at all.

One thing which bothered me a little when I was originally reading the book, but on reflection is actually quite clever, is the fact that it’s not entirely clear who the good guys or bad guys are in the tale. The Eagle Knights are hardly saints; they pretty much control Jevaithi and they’re responsible for the deaths of many Imperfect children, but apparently the old King was a very bad person who liked to create servitors, that is, removing people’s hearts so that they become immortal while their creator is alive and only visible to Imperfects. Then again, Tandor is hardly an angel himself, part of his reason for taking the children and raising them away from harm is so that he can create his own army of servitors to overthrow the Eagle Knights. I felt like just when I’d worked out who I should be disliking, the balance would swing again and I’d find myself questioning it again.

While on the one hand that’s a little frustrating; normally fantasy stories have a very clear Big Bad who you can hate, and very obvious Good Guys who you can root for, it’s a nice little twist in this story. As it’s the first in a trilogy I imagine that this is something which will be played around with in the next two books.

My only complaints would be that I didn’t really find Tandor particularly likeable, I much preferred hearing about young Isandor (I have a theory about him and I’m sorely tempted to read the next books to find out whether I’m right there). I wasn’t entirely sure what Tandor’s plan was for a fair part of the book. The very end of the book felt a little rushed to me as well, there was a lot of action taking place in a relatively short space of time and I ended up jogging to keep up (and wondering if I’d missed bits). There is some serious violence in this book as well, particularly involving Isandor’s friend, Carro; the other Apprentice Knights abuse him and he follows their example when he takes his revenge. Some readers might view this as unnecessary and it was quite unexpected in the book at that point.

That aside, I did really enjoy it and I think I would definitely read the next book in the series (and once you’ve read the second in a trilogy, you have to read the third). I also have to commend Patty Jansen on her excellent ‘Author’s Note’ at the very beginning of the book. As an Australian author I imagine that she has had some comments in the past about supposed typing errors due to the differences in British/Australian Standard English and the US variety. In it she helpfully points out that we have ‘Mums’ not ‘Moms’ and provides a very good illustration of the difference between ‘tire’ and ‘tyre’. I was looking forward to reading this book from the start, but that little note really hooked me in.
These were real Knights in the way he was not. Real Knights didn’t party, didn’t fight in melteries, didn’t try to get into a girl’s bed. Real Knights didn’t even show off their status to their families and old friends. Real Knights didn’t have old friends. They only had their jobs, and their superiors.
Location 2613

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