Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Icefall" by Matthew J. Kirby (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: After war has been declared on her father’s land Solveig, along with her brother -the crown prince and her older sister are sent to hide in a hidden fortress that is tucked between towering mountains and the frozen sea. Winter is fast approaching and once the sea freezes it could be months before the small group and those that are charged to protect them hear any news of the war.

As the glaciers and sea around them freezes, the group is faced with numerous problems ranging from small fights breaking out to lack of provisions. While waiting out the winter hints of a traitor amongst the group starts to appear. It is up to Solveig to uncover the traitor, restore order to the group, and discover who amongst them she can really trust and who is out to destroy the kingdom and the crown prince.

FORMAT: Icefall is a YA novel with hints of mystery and fantasy. While not the traditional sense of fantasy in the sense that there is no magic, there is a mysterious world that resembles the Vikings and there are hints of myths and legends that could be true.

Icefall stands at 336 pages and was published by Scholastic Press on October 1, 2011.

ANALYSIS: It’s amazing exactly what books will attract your attention and pull you in from the start. For one reason or another Icefall really grabbed my attention and had me staying up to the wee hours of the morning trying to finish this book.

Expectations going into Icefall weren’t really high. I had read Matthew J. Kirby’s debut novel The Clockwork Three and was utterly disappointed. It wasn’t so much the writing style or even the plot, but there is a continuing habit to market Kirby’s books as fantasy when in reality they are more about the characters, character interactions and emotions of the surrounding society. This was my biggest disappointment about The Clockwork Three, so I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Icefall.

Icefall is very similar to The Clockwork Three in that the plot element surrounds character development and focuses on the emotions of the characters. While there isn’t any magic, the sheer fact that Kirby created this Viking society is enough to classify it as a “fantasy”. Readers going into the novel who know not to expect a rip-roaring adventure or tons of magic won’t be disappointed.

Kirby is an excellent master at creating a main character that is three dimensional and a supporting cast that is fleshed out and detailed. From the first couple of pages there was just something about Solveig that attracted me to her. Solveig is the second daughter to the king. She isn’t extremely beautiful, and since she won’t inherit the throne her father tends to overlook her. Throughout Icefall, Solveig learns who she really is and changes from a self-conscious, quiet daughter to a confident, young woman full of self-esteem.

Fans of Norse folklore will really enjoy the various mythology and cultural elements that Kirby weaved into the story. While the country and characters are made up they very well could have been any person or culture from the Viking era.

One of the most amazing things for myself was how Kirby took an essentially small area and made it really come to life. The whole novel takes place in this secluded area that is cut off for the winter. One would think that this could lead to a boring novel as there isn’t really a change in environment or world, but Kirby really brings it to life and knows just when to unveil a new plot element so the small setting doesn’t go stale.

There is only one element of Icefall that I would change. I really wish that the ending had been more developed. I am assuming this is a stand-alone novel and the ending was wide open and left a lot to the reader’s imagination. I would have loved to see what really happened to the characters in the novel as I had formed such close bonds with all of them.

Icefall is truly a whirlwind novel about survival that is filled with heartwarming characters, mystery and intrigue. Readers both young and old will find themselves attracted to Solveig and working alongside her to uncover who the traitor is and work to get her and her family back home safely.

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