Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?

Released: October 1st 2011         Pages:324
Publisher: Scholastic Press         Source: Library

First Look: ***** I liked the look of this right from the start.  It has a cool premise, and it also has that people-in-enclosed-space aspect.  For some reason, that fascinates me.  Especially kids in an enclosed space, Lord of the Flies style.  I have no idea why.  Anyway, Icefall had basically nothing in common with LotF, which is fine with me.

Setting: *****
I like snowy, icy settings.  This is not just a book thing--I'm this way in real life.  We just got a few inches of snow last weekend (my yard looks like this and this), and I love it.  The author did a nice job describing the setting, and finding that happy medium between too few details and too many details.

Except...I would've liked more details as to where and when the setting was.  This is one of two things that tripped me up while reading this book (the second regards characters).  The setting was very Nordic, and obviously set in a medieval sort of time period, but that's all we knew.  Was it a fantasy setting with Scandanavian influence, or was it an actual place at an actual time in the past?  I would've liked a little more info on that.

Characters: *****
So...much...depth!  The characterization in this book is lovely.  We've got Solveig, who had a Hiccup-esque air to her.  She's a spunky, determined character, yet she also has some great quieter moments where her true personality shines through.  I loved her growth throughout the story.  We also have Aldric, the skald (bard/storyteller), who was quite mysterious.  We also have Asa and Per, an interesting pair that are likable and yet highly suspicious.  I felt for the characters, even the goat.  I loved the "good guys" and even liked some of the "bad guys" (though for the longest time, it's tough to tell where the line between the two is). 

The only thing that bothered me was the ages of the characters.  How old is Solveig?  I have no idea.  The book never said, not once.  I'm guessing she's around twelve or thirteen, but it still would be nice to know.  And then there's Per.  At first I got the impression that he was sixteen or so, but Solveig kept calling him a "man", so I'm not sure.

Plot: *****
Icefall is part adventure, part coming-of-age novel, and part whodunit.  It's a slower read to begin with, but it never once lost my attention.  I thought I had figured out who the traitor was.  Then I changed my mind, then changed it back again.  (I was actually right the second time.)  It kept me guessing!

There's also some surprising intensity at the end.  And a plot twist that made me do one of those little quick inhales that you do when something shocking/sad happens but you're reading in public but can't help having a reaction to the book.  Mentally, I was screaming "Not _______, not them, please not them!" 

I loved Solveig's journey to discover her calling as a skald.  Any writer can relate to this.  One of Icefall's themes is the immense power of stories, which is wonderful because Icefall in itself is a powerful story.  A powerful story about the power of powerful stories.  It's powerfulstoryception. (I'm going to have to use that word in future reviews.)

Uniqueness: *****
It was a unique and fresh read.

Writing: *****
The writing, too, was lovely.  It wasn't lovely because it was fancy.  It wasn't overdone in the least.  Instead, it was raw and honest.  It felt so, so much like something that would come from Solveig.  The author did an amazing job capturing her voice and putting it down on paper.  There are some really beautiful quotes, like:

 "A story is not a thing. A story is an act. It only exists in the brief moment of its telling. The question you must ask is what a story has the power to do. The truth of something you do is very different from the truth of something you know."

And also, this:
"Until now, I thought only of what stories could do in their moment. I was the ploughman, turning the hearts of my audience like soil, thinking I could bend the earth to my will. But stories have a quieter and more subtle power than that. Now I see that I am also the ploughman’s wife walking behind him, dropping seeds into the earth, leaving them to grow in meaning. I realize that every story I have ever heard is a part of me, deeply rooted, whispering behind my thoughts."

Excuse me while I go weep out of sheer joy at the beauty and truth of these quotes.

Likes:  I found, on the author's website, some pictures that inspired the settings for this book.  I want to go to those places!

Not-so-great:
The only things I didn't like were the ages, and the setting confusion.

Overall:
This is a lovely, lovely book.  On the surface, it's an exciting story that keeps you guessing.  Underneath, there are many layers.  It has a wonderful message about the power of stories and of self-discovery.  It has characters that I liked and grew attached to.  The author has a great talent for capturing Solveig's voice in words.  Five stars to this beautiful, awesome little book.  Middle grade has certainly treated me well this year.  Now there will actually be a fight for spots in my yearly Top Ten.  Before, it was looking like all my 5-star books would get in because I only had 10 this year, but Icefall has turned it into a competition!  I wouldn't be surprised to see it rather high on my list this year.
 
Similar Books: This book has prominent Norse mythology aspects like in The Coming of Dragons (Can I just take a minute here and proclaim my love for the Darkest Age series?  It seems that I'm the only one who has ever heard of it, but it's FABULOUS.  Ahem.) and Runemarks.  It has a spunky, determined, royal protagonist like in The False Prince, and an icy, wintery setting like Witchlanders.
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