I’d recommend this book for readers with an eye for detail searching for a new world of character-driven fantasy that doesn’t lean on faux-medieval and/or Tolkien tropes. The book has plenty of action and mystery elements, but feels very much at its core about love, longing and sacrifice in all its forms. I’d urge you to read the equally good The Honours first to get the fullest enjoyment from The Ice House.
Delphine continues to be an absolute delight with her bullheadedness and both academic and practical obsession with guns. New point-of-view character Hagar is massively intriguing from the get-go – her ruthlessness and at times eerie compassion when dispatching people-shaped obstacles creates a nuanced character with a well-defined, if sometimes alien, moral code. It would have been so easy for both Delphine and Hagar to slip into Hollywood badass mode with one good, the other bad, but Clare shies away from that binary to give us these more conflicted characters. My favourite character is Martha. She doesn’t have much dialogue in which to express herself but does so well regardless thanks to Clare’s skill, her love for others shining through.
Clare plays with time in this book, Hagar’s story being told mostly backwards over years and Delphine’s forward in the present day, which really works as a device as we find out every layer to Hagar’s reasoning as we go on.
The fantasy world is unique and as the characters are immersed in their world already there isn’t a lot of explanation. The author gives just enough information where necessary avoiding infodumps. It’s been a while since I read The Honours and in this series there are no well-trodden stereotyped fantasy races, magics or even systems of government for your brain to lean on, so at places I felt the cogs in my brain starting to heat up holding this unique world in RAM. On top of that, with such rich prose making every line brim with fresh detail, both foreground and background, I’d recommend getting cosy with the book so you can get immersed and lap up every snippet of imagery. Skimmers will find themselves lost, but you won’t want to read this book in a hurry. At times I found myself rereading passages because I wanted to work out the rules of a sport, or guess at the symbolic meanings behind elements of a cultural festival. Clare’s world truly feels as though it has evolved and everything is interlinked. I’d be all over a compendium.
I’ll be going back to read The Honours to see it in this extended light, and I hope the author continues the series! Five emphatic Martha bops.