Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

Matthew J. Kirby, author of The Clockwork Three, deftly weaves a brand-new tale with chilling cleverness and subtle suspense that will leave readers racing breathlessly to the end.

Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father’s victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king’s children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father’s watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?

Review:

This book knocked my socks off. Seriously. I had no idea what to expect going in, but what I found in Icefall was an utterly unique, smart, and fantastically compelling blend of intrigue, mystery, suspense, and coming of age story. I am completely in love with this book. 

In some ways the cover of Icefall is misleading, in that it implies a pure action/adventure type of story, a story in which a hero heroically swings a war hammer and cuts a swathe across a battlefield. But Icefall is anything but your typical fantasy adventure – and that’s why I love it so much. This is a story of many different kinds of battles: the battle to survive against the harshest of conditions, as our heroes are trapped by ice and snow and their supplies rapidly begin to dwindle; the battle to prove your own worth to the father who thinks you are worthless and has taught you to believe the same; the battle to keep faith with those you trust, and not turn on each other while you hunt for a traitor in your midst; the battle to keep bloodthirsty warriors from raising their swords. Oh, I loved how Icefall explored so many different struggles, and how the inner battles were easily as fraught and compelling as the physical ones. I literally couldn’t tear my eyes away from this book.

Solveig, our heroine, is the useless middle child of a King, a daughter with no beauty or battle prowess to earn her father’s love and respect. Neglected and overlooked, Solveig sees in herself only what she is not, and she is adrift, searching for a purpose. When she finds herself in grave danger, cut off from any hope of help or rescue, she discovers a strength that surprises even herself and a talent she never thought worthwhile. I loved Solveig’s quiet courage, and her gradual discovery of her own worth. Kirby is a genius in how he captures in Solveig that moment of slowly dawning realization when a child fully sees the people around them for the first time, through an adult’s eyes – that moment where we first understand that adults are mere human beings, as fallible as we are. Solveig’s painful realization of the the things that have been in front of her all along, and her first trembling step over the threshold of adulthood, are wonderful to behold.

I particularly fell in love with the ways in which this story illuminates the power of the spoken word. Storytelling is used as a weapon in this story, and Kirby ably demonstrates the power of controlling the narrative, and how history is shaped by the victor. In a battlefield of words, Solveig learns to take the field, and her struggle to express herself yet keep her world from being stained in blood is utterly brilliant.

I also downright loved the setting of this story, with its haunting, lonely geography that is both vast and claustrophobic, and with its terribly dangerous yet beautiful ice and snow. Nordic culture and mythology are also brought vibrantly to life, and I easily can call this book the best Nordic fantasy I’ve ever read.

A smart, taut, and all around brilliant story, Icefall is my favorite surprise of the year. Even more so than The Clockwork Three, Icefall shows the full range of what Kirby can do – and he has now cemented his place on my must read list. This is a book to get excited about, and a book that cannot be missed.

Byrt Grade: A+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

The chilly, claustrophobic, ancient setting is vividly created, and the sense of impending doom generates a gripping suspense overarching the developing—and deteriorating—relationships among the group, marking Kirby (The Clockwork Three, 2010) as a strong emerging novelist.

Bookalicious says:

The mystery of who is sabotaging the fjord is incredibly believable and I had a great many theories that proved to be wrong while trying to decipher the whodunit. There are harsh moments, bloody battles and plenty of intense action to move the plot along. I was thoroughly dazzled by the pacing of the book and I felt like I read it in no time at all.

Publishers Weekly says:

Kirby turns in a claustrophobic, thought-provoking coming-of-age adventure that shows a young woman growing into her own, while demonstrating the power of myth and legend. Kirby’s attention to detail and stark descriptions make this an effective mood piece. Readers may be drawn in by the promise of action, which Kirby certainly fulfills, but they’ll be left contemplating the power of the pen versus the sword—or rather the story versus the war hammer.

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