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The Ice Soldier: A Novel Hardcover – December 27, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, British mountaineer George Mallory famously replied "Because it's there." For William Bromley, narrator of this vivid, elegant novel, the reasons for scaling Carton's Rock, a formidable pinnacle in the Italian Alps, are more complex. By 1950, his WWII service as a Royal Marines mountaineering instructor behind him, Bromley has settled down. He teaches at a London boy's school, he reads and on Fridays he gets drunk at the club with his best friend, Stanley. The resurfacing of an old climbing partner—a participant in a disastrous wartime mission, which Bromley led, to install a radio transmitter atop Carton's Rock—triggers guilty memories. And when Stanley's uncle Henry Carton, a renowned former climber, commits suicide and asks, as his last request, that his body be taken to the top of his namesake mountain, Bromley, seeking absolution, sets off with Stanley for the Alps. The final third of the novel details their gripping journey as they confront avalanche, hidden crevasses, and lost gear and food, all the while lugging Carton's coffin up the glacier. Watkins (The Forger; Archangel) is fluent in "the languages of rock and cloud and ice," and his empathy creates a clear portrait of a man refusing to be undone by the past. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

William Bromley teaches history at a London boarding school, trying to keep war memories firmly in his past even as they threaten to destabilize the quiet life he has made. The occasional flashback and his altered consciousness are the only signs that a failed World War II expedition of boyhood friends to the Alps under his command still haunts him. Bromley and his friend Stanley Carton have formed the Society of Former Mountaineers, mocking the trendy patrons of mountaineering at their club. The death of Stanley's uncle, Henry Carton, renowned climber and Bromley's former mentor, compels the two young men to take up a new mission. Bromley is challenged to the physical, mental, and emotional trials of climbing the deadly Carton Rock. Despite his trepidation, Bromley hopes the mission will get him out of the "streams of time" that have him caught between the past and the present. Watkins evokes the alluring beauty and treacherous danger of mountain climbing as he details the little-known role of the mountaineering corps in the war effort. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805078673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805078671
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,837,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Calle Estafeta Guy, UK. on January 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I thought this was an excellent book. Paul Watkins has created a parallel universe which seems very real. I won't spoil the plot but suffice to say it'll have you reaching for your old Nat Geo mags to see if this actually occured. It's that believable. His characters are warm, slightly-battered and very human. The 1950s setting draws you in and keeps you there. The research that's gone into the period-details seems spot-on. Anyone who has read earlier Watkins' books expects slightly-macho heroes. He doesn't disappoint here but William Bromley, the protagonist, is somewhat more sympathetic and flawed than earlier characters. Paul Watkins' work is simply getting better with age. If Indiana Jones and Ernest Hemingway had met on a freezing mountaintop then this would have been the result. But seriously - the plot reveals a subtle complexity and new maturity, that makes this astonishing but quiet book, linger on in your memory after you've finished reading it. It was come back into you head days aftewards, making you wonder if you;d actually dreamt about it initially. Everyone knows that Paul Watkins will one day hit the headlines, top the charts and write the Great Novel - this could be the warm up for that accolade. A brilliant story, by one of the greatest writers of his generation.
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Format: Hardcover
At the beginning of Paul Watkins's outstanding new novel The Ice Soldier, narrator William Bromley embraces his quiet life. Just six years before, he served as a British soldier during World War II, and he now teaches English at a small boys' school. To pass the time, he plays cards with two colleagues, avoids the woman he has a crush on, and meets for a weekly wine binge with his old friend Stanley. When the appearance of a former comrade Sugden triggers intense flashbacks to a failed mission in the Italian Alps, Bromley knows he is in trouble. His best friend Stanley does not understand his crisis, and instead presses him to meet the new love of his life, Helen Paradise ("Hell and Paradise?"), who, unlike the two men, has not given up mountaineering. Bromley seems destined to lead a quiet but tortured life while Stanley heads toward the inevitable break-up with Helen. When Stanley's uncle Carton ensures that the "Society of Former Mountaineers," as Stanley and Bromley call themselves, will disband, the two men find themselves faced with their internal demons in ways neither had imagined.

At the center of this novel lies Carton's Rock, a "jagged pinnacle of stone and ice which rose almost sheer out of a glacier." Named after Stanley's uncle Carton, the only person said to have reached its summit, the peak--or rather, the idea of it--has become a kind of tourist attraction in London, where Carton makes a living out of his retelling of his harrowing expedition. To Bromley, Carton's Rock carries its own diabolical memories, ones which threaten to cripple him every day. Still, he is drawn to the stark beauty of it rising out of the treacherous glacier.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rick Mitchell VINE VOICE on February 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I am a huge fan of Paul Watkins. Calm at Sunset, Calm at Dawn is as good as it gets. Watkin's books have great characters. Some have terrific action. This book falls short of the others. There is good action late, but, most disappointingly, the characters do not shine.

After a slow start, or slow first half, the main characters head to the Alps for what appears to be a suicide mountain climbing "mission". They take it on to face the ghosts of their pasts which have been laboriously drawn in the first half. Once the two start their trek, the writing and pace improve and the book is very good.

The problem is the first half, plus. The narrator as a character is flat. The plot switches - slowly - back and forth from the narrator's WWII experience and the present to set the stage for the mountain climb. Somehow the the characters do not quite work. Even the aging eccentric showman mountaineering guru does not leap off the page with a personality that fits his persona. The reader does not feel conflict, although he senses it is meant to be there.

One the stage is set, the narrator and his best friend head to the glacier to fulfill the mission set for them by the guru. As noted, this is when the novel catches the reader's attention and becomes an action novel. The descriptions of the characters at the Alps and then the climb are very good and more of what can be expected from Mr. Watkins.

This is a good read, just not up to Watkins' norm, so do not judge him by this book. But hang in after the slow start, it is worth it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The protagonist of Paul Watkins' excellent novel "The Ice Soldier" is one William Bromley, a decorated veteran of the Second World War and former mountaineer, now working as a schoolteacher in London and living with some uncomfortable memories. In June of 1950, his seemingly settled life comes unglued in the face of three mysteries. Watkins will unspool these mysteries in parallel in the course of his narrative.

The first mystery is what actually happened on a military operation in the Italian Alps in which Bromley led his pre-war climbing team. Bromley was decorated for his leadership but is haunted by his memories of the operation.

The second mystery concerns the uncle of his best friend, who sent Bromley on his wartime mission and who is famous as the sole survivor of a fatal climbing accident during the conquest of a peak in the Italian Alps. His unexpected suicide places an stunning obligation on Bromley.

The third mystery is the outcome of a journey of redemption undertaken by Bromley and his best friend, each for his own reasons, on behalf on the dead uncle.

Watkins' narrative follows Bromley on his journey in the present, periodically circling back to his wartime journey to the Italian Alps. Watkins's prose and grasp of telling details in set-piece vignettes are often pitch-perfect, whether the action takes place in a London Club, an English boarding school, an Italian village, or the wreckage of a plane in the Italian Alps. His description of an alfresco meal in a field in Italy is an example of a simple but memorable piece that adds surprising depth to the narrative.

The storyline is complicated by the need to account for the interactions of multiple characters.
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