Ice Forged is the seventh novel by American author Gail Z. Martin, and her first one to take place outside of the Winter Kingdoms, the world of the Fallen Kings Cycle and the Chronicles of the Necromancer. It tells the story of a young man’s quest to stay alive in a world turned to chaos. Blaine “Mick” McFadden finds himself struggling to restore order in the face of warlords, assassins, criminals and the threat of an invading army.
A new world and a new style
I mentioned in my review of The Dread that I felt she filled a very useful niche in the transition between young adult and adult fantasy, melding the simpler styles of YA with the more serious and realistic themes of adult fantasy. With this new series, Martin seems to be pushing further into the world of adult fantasy with a much grittier and darker vision for her characters and her world.
In this book, we find that Mick has been sentenced to exile in the frozen penal colony of Velant for the murder of his own father, a nobleman and Lord who was also a vicious abuser and rapist. And so we’re already off to a dark start. When a war back on the mainland causes a catastrophic destruction of magic that may well encompass the whole world, Mick, who has earned his freedom and become a colonist rather than a prisoner, finds himself with a choice between living out his life on Velant or trying to return to the mainland and see what has become of everyone there.
In Martin’s previous works, while the stakes were high, everything else always seemed a little too safe—like everybody was still going to make it home for dinner in spite of the troubles. In Ice Forged, however, right from page one, you are left with the impression that everything is just one turn away from complete and total disaster and that this story could easily end with a world descended into utter chaos and violence. It’s a departure, but an excellent one with a great deal of potential.
With apologies to Larry Niven
Ever since I read the 1978 short story “The Magic Goes Away” by Larry Niven, I’ve been fascinated by worlds that have magic and then suddenly find themselves without it. In Ice Forged, we see a world populated by a huge variety of mages, hedge-wizards, healers, and common folk who have some small magic powers. Magic is used everywhere, from making better beer to keeping fences standing up to winning at cards. So when the mysterious event that appears to make magic simply stop working occurs, you’re left with a very rapid, very serious deterioration in society. It is on the scale of what might happen in our world if one day electricity just stopped working. We wouldn’t all die, at least not right away, but an awful lot of people live in an awful lot of places that are only liveable because of such technology.
Martin does an excellent job of communicating just how great an effect this is having on everybody, showcasing the extreme degree to which magic is taken for granted in her world by nearly everyone, even those who lack it. For instance, while sailing the open ocean in a winter storm, you realize that the shipwright used magic to keep the hull sealed instead of solid construction, you find yourself in some very tense moments very quickly.
But what’s with the vampires?
If you followed the link in the first section to my review of The Dread, you may have seen my discussion there of Martin’s use of vampires in a very interesting and engaging way in that world. Ice Forged has yet another variety of slightly non-standard but still fairly traditional vampires—the talishte, who seem to have most of the usual strengths and weaknesses of vampires. But where the Winter Kingdoms books also had spirits, werewolves, demons, and magical beasts, Ice Forged appears to only have humans and vampires. They don’t really detract from the story, and one of Martin’s vampires, Lord Lanyon Penhallow, is actually a very interesting and engaging character. That said, they also don’t really seem to add much to the story, either.
It seems as though Martin just has a deep and abiding love for vampire lore (and who wouldn’t? They’re pretty awesome) but there’s a time and a place for superhuman creatures with incredible powers, and it feels a little like a post-apocalyptic world with no magic and little technology where humans are immediately on the brink of complete societal collapse isn’t that place. Unless the second book in the series is going to be about vampires taking over the world, in which case, mea culpa.
Why should you read this book?
I said in my last Martin review that you should read her because she is a very solid writer with a firm grasp of the basics of plot, pacing, and characters. I also said that she wasn’t really doing anything especially ground-breaking, but sometimes that’s what you’re looking for.
While the same holds true here, the real reason you should read this book is to watch an author grow and come into her own. It’s great to read a book and think to yourself, “That was well done, but what else can you do?” and then see, in their very next book, “Oh, that’s what else you can do… please continue!”
As an author, Martin has finished walking, and now it’s time to run.