Book review: The Ice House by Tim Clare
The Ice House - Tim Clare
SPOILER ALERT - As this is the second book in a series there will evidently be spoilers below but only relating to events that take place in book one, The Honours.
It's a bit of a surprise to find that The Ice House picks up the story started in The Honours by leaping to the near-present 73 years later. That means that Delphine, the plucky young and irrepressible 13 year old heroine who discovered a portal in the Ice House of Alderberen Hall that transported alien creatures from another dimension into England in 1935, is now an old lady of 86. Which also means that many of the characters of the first book - the few from Alderberen Hall that survived an invasion from another world/dimension - would also be dead or, like Alice, suffering from dementia and confined to a care home.
But evidently, as the prologue hints, time has different properties in the different dimensions, some creatures - including Delphine's father - have been gifted with The Honours which means they are pretty much immortal. As far as 86 year old Delphine is concerned however the events that took place in 1935 are almost like a dream, there being no further contact with the other realm since then and only a vivid reminder of the pit and the company of a lanta, a beetle like creature called Martha, to remind her that it was all very real. Nonetheless her efforts to find out more through cryptic messages posted on web sites have brought forth no new information about Avalonia. Which, considering the invasion plans in The Honours, is a good think in one way at least.
That wouldn't provide much material for a sequel however and as the prologue indicates there are other plans and conspiracies afoot. What is surprising about this, and the vast majority of the book, is that we get to see what is on the other side of the portal for the first time. And, you can presume, so does Delphine. As far as we know however there are no longer any thresholds open, but Delphine hasn't forgotten, keeping an eye out for clues, and she has reasons to want to go back there. That brings unwanted attention but you'll probably not be surprised to find out that even at 86 Delphine has lost none of her fighting spirit of defiance. She still pretty resourceful and dangerous. And for where she is going that is clearly going to be an advantage.
After The Honours The Ice House brings a striking change of pace. It's another world evidently and another time, so there's less of the sense of it being a classic HG Wells or Jules Verne tale. We are introduced to Avalonia and find that it is really only a smaller part of a much larger world. It's a place which, not unexpectedly considering the creatures and ruling powers met in the previous book, is a cruel place. Despite some having immortality, death is always nearby in the political and power struggles of the place. There are a few old faces residing there now, but mainly we see things there from the perspective of Hagar Ingery, a 'valet' to the Grand-Duc Morgellon, a servant, a handmaiden, a pain-bearer who, despite her important position, is regarded with suspicion by the locals in Fat Maw. Morgellon is coming to the city for an inauguration and Hagar means to confront and somehow assassinate him, having suffered 400 years of servitude.
All of which suggests that The Ice House might lack the freshness of The Honours but in reality it's even more thrilling and original, having little in common with most fantasy book conventions. The structure is also a little more challenging, Hagar's timeline line going backwards in leaps and bounds, not so much clarifying matters as adding to the complexity of the view of the new world, seeming to constantly add to the high death count with each section. Things have to get a little more confusing before they start to become clear however, before you understand not only the nature of this new world but its connection with ours.
What is amazing about this is the thought that Tim Clare kept all of this under wraps when he wrote the first book, barely hinting of the depths to come, but trusting that the reader would come along with him after The Honours. And he's not wrong. This is how you take a story to the next level in the second book of a series (I expect another follow-up), striking out in a style different from the first and remaining just as unpredictable in where it's going. Few fantasy series do it as well as this.