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The Age of Ice: A Novel Hardcover – July 23, 2013
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This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
Sidorova’s imaginative and densely detailed first novel mingles historical and speculative fiction. Prince Alexander Velitsyn was conceived in ice: he and his twin brother were born of two jesters forced to wed and remain overnight in Empress Anna Ioanovna’s ice palace in January 1740. As a young soldier, Alexander is startled to discover he’s unaffected by cold and that heightened emotions turn his body literally frigid. Thus begins his quest for a scientific explanation and fellow sufferers, if they exist. Since his condition makes it challenging to get close to women, he turns to a life of adventure and exploration. His jaunts propel readers on an informative journey over 250 years of Russian history and ventures abroad, from an Arctic expedition to the Napoleonic Wars and the Great Game in central Asia. (He also becomes immortal at one point.) Alexander’s detached narration—which suits his situation—keeps readers at a distance, but his interactions with other characters, real and fictional, and his continual yearning for connections enrich the tale with depth and meaning. --Sarah Johnson
"Jeweled with the kind of narrative intricacies and heights of fancy that transform a good story into a sensory glut, in this mesmerizing debut, Sidorova reduces you to a primal state of readership, casting you into darkness so vast that you have no choice but to press on and discover what about it feels so familiar. The Age of Ice rekindles every far-flung childhood memory you have of what it means to experience a great book." (Téa Obreht, New York Times-bestselling author of The Tiger's Wife)
"In this marvelous first novel, J.M. Sidorova combines the various properties of ice--its grotesque mutations, its flaws and cracks, its rotting swells, its bitter and consoling beauty--and builds them layer by layer into a metaphor for the emotional and political forces that encase us and the world. Ice binds the characters and shatters them apart, and the far reaches of the novel--Siberia, St. Petersburg, Paris, Herat, Calcutta, and New York over hundreds of years--are spanned as if by bridges of ice. Sidorova has created a tale at once familiar and foreign, thawed out of history and yet still fresh.” (Paul Park, author of A Princess of Roumania and Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance)
“It is rare, but sometimes a book wanders in from the cold, sweeps you off your feet, and kicks you in the face… The Age of Ice is a wonderful, impressive, and satisfying novel. Calling it the best epic fantasy novel that I have read in years is hyperbolic, but not far from the mark. This novel has plenty of appeal for readers on either side of the genre-literary divide.” (James Oliver, Lazy Bastard Press)
"The Age of Ice is an incredible journey, in all senses of the word." (Annie Smith, Summer Reading Project)
“The Age of Ice is a big book--big in ambition and big in achievement. From magical opening to lyrical close, Sidorova moves with ease and authority across the globe and through the centuries. The writing is crystalline and the adventure never ends. Everything you could want in a novel.” (Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves)
“Packed with incident large and small, and alive with rich, memorable characters, J.M. Sidorova’s novel is a lush, lyrical saga about science and pseudoscience, history and fantasy, love and war—and cold weather. You won’t read this novel; you’ll surrender to it.” (Karl Iagnemma, author of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction and Principal Investigator, Robotic Mobility Group, MIT)
"I'm in awe. The Age of Ice is a luminous vision, a waking dream, utterly delicious. Sidorova is the best new writer I’ve come across in years." (Rudy Rucker, author of The Ware Tetralogy)
"If you are going to read this book (and I recommend that you do) take some time away from life. Find a quiet place, and devote your mind to the story. It will consume you, amaze you and remind you that there are authors out there who use common words to create uncommon magic." (Ionia Martin, Readful Things Blog)
"Sidorova’s imaginative and densely detailed first novel mingles historical and speculative fiction.... Characters, real and fictional, and [Alexander's] continual yearning for connections enrich the tale with depth and meaning." (Booklist)
"Sidorova’s lyrical prose complements her protagonist’s fantastical tale of isolation on his mythic journey." (Publishers Weekly)
“Arresting… Influenced by writers Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, Sidorova incorporates science fiction and magical realism into her historical tales.” (Seattle magazine)
“Just beautiful… A very special read… with a bit of magic and a lot of gorgeous prose.” (Ann Kingman “Books on the Nightstand” podcast)
"Evocative... [Sidorova's] detailed, compelling prose lingers on the brain." (Denver Post)
“Ambitious … An impressive debut by a writer who draws her own magic from some of the darker, and colder, chapters of Russia's complex history." (Elizabeth Hand Los Angeles Times)
“Velitzyn is an appealing character: handsome, shy, passionate yet reflective…. Knowledge, affection and skill combine to draw readers in and drive them forward through frozen steppe and burgeoning city, through trading post, fortress, intrigue-riddled embassy, sweltering prison and all the myriad settings in this eccentric jewel of a novel." (Nisi Shawl Seattle Times)
"Exceptional prose.... Amazing." (Tulsa World)
"Deftly written.... With its classical style and superior character development, the novel draws the reader into a world of intrigue and suspense... There are few novels that have caught my imagination like this one." (Examiner.com)
"Alexander’s sharp observations – and the author’s ability to plunge him into the thick of things, fraught with emotions far more intense than ennui – display a remarkable power." (Locus)
“The chief glory of this book has nothing whatsoever to do with how much it does or does not adhere to genre boundaries. The real delight in reading this novel is the language. It is rich and vivid, full of unexpected descriptions that turn out to be just right… It is, in short, beautiful… An affecting love story, a stirring war novel, a novel of scientific endeavor, a tale of exploration, a tragedy…. A superb debut.” (Paul Kincaid Strange Horizons)
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Top customer reviews
If you are searching for an excellent story with history, science, conflict, passion and an abundance of cold, then I highly recommend The Age of Ice.
If you want a good story, set in an exotic local as many fantasies written in the twenty-first century seem wont to do to now to differentiate themselves from the typical Tolkienesque medieval world, then you will enjoy the alien world written about here.
If you are Russian, Russophone or have a background where you learned the tales of the bogatyrs, about the succession of Russian czars and czarinas of the 18th century, and about Russian culture then you will smile at the casual references to things you know and grew up with. And maybe you still recall watching the most awesome Soviet cartoon, The Snow Queen (1957), and so something about the title of the book and the cover art will have sparked your imagination and cause you to order this on the day it came out.
Either way, or perhaps because of both ways, you will indeed enjoy this fantasy. Set against the backdrop of long centuries and across the span of the Russian Empire and beyond to the Middle East of the 19th century and Europe of the 20th century, the story begins with the copulation of the protagonist's (Alexander) father with a dwarf. In an ice palace of all places. Why there and why the deed? Because the author's father offended the Empress Anna with a dalliance with an Italian Catholic. Ah the whims of royalty when you're the not the ruler but living in an autocratic system. Fun times.
The writing itself can sometimes feel/be considered overwrought. But only to the eyes of someone used to twenty-first century simplicity. No one seriously calls Jane Austen verbose or full of love for her own self because of how she wrote. And I did get a slight Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell vibe from the writing of this book, another book written now but as it were originally written in another century. It's not too easy to capture the writing style of a bygone era. The book sometimes feels as if it is being written in the 18th century but with modern just slightly too self indulgent and self aware tendencies. Considering that the protagonist is thinking about his own history, then perhaps this mismatch between 18th century and 21st century will resolve itself.
But where is the fantasy you're asking yourself. Early on in our riveting tale, Alexander slowly begins to realize that he cannot feel cold. And what this means for him is what drives his story. Because Alexander is different than everyone else and his search for the reason why he is different is the heart of the book. It will lead him across the Russian Empire. And beyond. Lots of great descriptions. Lots of good story telling.
Fantasy can be many things these days. While I am happy reading Tolkien or Lewis, I'm also happy reading this kind of book that sets the story in a world many of us are just as unfamiliar with, but that still seeks to tell a good story and allow us an escape from the "real" world into the fantastical world. This time to that of a Russia that was.
Alexander had been into privilege and ease as a prince of the realm. His natural ease and physical beauty had earned him a place in the guard of the Empress herself. Indeed he was in that group who overthrew the czar to put Catherine the Great on the throne in their regard for an Empress ruling the country. He gradually learns that shades of passion come to render him freezing to the point he will eventually kill anyone in his embrace, while he feels no change of temperature.
In a world of extreme emotions, he must shield himself from lust, rage, and grief. There is no one to guide him and no one to understand. He cannot even trust another person with his secret. His only eternally constant companion is the ecstasy of ice, the transformation of all life other than his to to a crystalline death. The prose can become exhausting at some points, but the author always rescues the reader from the brink metaphysical burn out into the hands of a compelling story. These decades of Russian history are consumed with extremes heroism to depths of ignominy. He participates in the heartless splendor of Catherine the Great, the search through Siberia for the Northeast passage, and the Napoleonic Wars. Seemingly immortal, his story stretches through every extreme.
In his encounters with ice, an allegory on the transformation of the world emerges. As water is the base of life, is ice a part of every cycle? "A story is a form of death or a form of immortality of life, very much like life itself." Here is a story to bring one kind of order to a boiling world. I urge you to take this trip to Ice.
Most recent customer reviews
Unfortunately, I just couldn't feel anything for this book.Read more