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June 14, 2013

AWWC 2013 Review – Fire & Ice by Patty Jansen

Filed under: books of 2013,books read,women writers challenge 2013 — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 6:43 pm

This is not so much a review as a response to Patty Jansen‘s Fire & Ice: Icefire Trilogy #1 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. This is my fifth review for 2013. At the time of writing, this novel is available as a free ebook from Smashwords,¬† Amazon¬† and Kobo. (Edit: Oops, correction, not free at Kobo). As the name implies, it’s the first volume in a trilogy.

The first part of what promises to be an exciting epic fantasy, most of the elements of Fire & Ice work very well – fascinating magic with some truly weird qualities, an arctic (or at least very cold) setting, political intrigue, fantastic beasts (mainly giant riding eagles, bears under harness and sea lions) and protagonists with a variety of relatable agendas.

Mostly Fire & Ice worked for me, but I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I might for a couple of reasons. While most of the women in the story – in particular the long-suffering midwife and the adolescent queen – were intriguing and appealing, the men were almost all either terrible, stupid or desperately broken. I’ll deal with my problems with the guys below the cut, as there are some spoilers involved. (Also: trigger warning for discussion of rape).

Aside from the elements that put me off, this is a good story – a political potboiler in the process of colliding headlong with a magical apocalypse, told through the eyes of a (somewhat ill-prepared) revolutionary, a captive queen and a couple of naive young Knights with dark secrets. The pieces crash together in exciting ways, and the situation escalates nicely toward an explosive climax. That said, nothing is resolved by the end – it’s undoubtedly the first part of a series, though in itself that’s by no means a complaint.

But I had a few problems with Fire & Ice that dragged it down for me. I enjoyed the prose and characterisation, so I’ll definitely be looking out for more of Jansen’s work, but I’m not sure I’ll necessarily go back to this particular series.

(Some character spoilers below. Also: major trigger warning)

The main protagonist, a would-be revolutionary called Tandor, makes so many poor decisions for someone who has been planning his big move for over ten years that it becomes almost impossible to get behind his cause. The square-jawed hero fares a little better, but much of what goes wrong is down to his self-involvement, which borders on the oblivious.

And then there’s a character, Carro, who begins presented as merely annoyingly helpless (due to admittedly horrible circumstances) and is gradually revealed to be mentally ill. This character’s plotline involves rape, used as an informal martial punishment – which on the one hand is realistic enough, but on the other hand feels tonally out of whack with the rest of the plot. I won’t say it’s gratuitous – quite – but it was jarring when it happened and not, I felt, redeemed by the rest of the story. Of course, there’s another two books in the trilogy for the consequences to play out, and at this point I have faith that the author knows what she’s doing here. All the same, it was a sour tone in the narrative for me.

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