Our Lady Of The Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke
|Book Name:||Our Lady of The Ice|
|Author:||Cassandra Rose Clarke|
|Release Date:||October 2015|
Our Lady of the Ice is my latest attempt at broadening my perspective and understanding of the ‘Young Adult’ genre. When I started out on this journey, after the Young Adult Literary Convention, a few years ago I thought that within a few books I’d easily be able to define what makes YA ‘Young Adult’ and not Urban Fantasy or Epic Fantasy, etc. I’m afraid to say that Our Lady of the Ice is another book that I struggle to define as a Young Adult novel, because by doing so I inevitably suggest that the book isn’t for adults and that’s untrue – this is a book for everyone, just like so many other ‘Young Adult’ novels hiding away on those shelves in bookshops that readers over the age of 16 rarely approach.
Our Lady of the Ice begins with some absolutely beautiful composition and the author really showcases her talent as she gives a tour of Hope City located within a dome inside Antarctica. When it was built in the early 1900s, Hope City promised a comfortable life for the people who moved there; the state of the art Amusement Park filled with Robots that vary in state from simple maintenance droids through to human-like Androids would provide tourism and subsequently work for a joyous livelihood. However, investments and dreams don’t always pan out and when the amusement park was closed in the 1940s the people who had traveled to Hope City (and their children) found themselves stranded within a freezing cold domed city that had no infrastructure and that was costly to leave (due to the huge fees being charged by transport ships and the immigration office). Most of the androids have been deactivated, but others have began to evolve; some to the extent they’ve become sentient and have their own dreams and aspirations.
Back to the humans though: rather than the dream-like lifestyle they were promised, the majority of those living in Hope City are experiencing a nightmare that they wish to escape. One such character, that I guess is the protagonist, although the novel is multi-perspective, is Eliana Gomez, a female Private Investigator. Set in the mid-1900s, this isn’t an easy job for a young woman – the majority of clients would prefer to hire more experienced, male PIs – but Eliana is just about getting by from the client-base and reputation of the employer she took over from. Her motivation to work her butt off on a daily basis is the same as everyone else’s: earn enough to escape to the mainland.
Eliana’s life is made complicated by the fact her boyfriend is under the employment of the city’s notorious, brutal Crime Lord, Ignacio Cabrera. Eliana has always promised Diego that she wouldn’t take on a case in which Ignacio would be involved… Diego feels indebted to Ignacio as he was saved from a live of poverty by him (although, it must be said, now forces him to lead a life of crime). At the point we meet Eliana she has been able to keep this promise, however, when Eliana runs into Marianella Luna, an aristocrat offering enough money to get her to the mainline should she take her case, Eliana is willing to break her promise to Diego in order to get out of Hope City once and for all.
I guess you could call Our Lady of the Ice a dystopian fantasy, but equally a Science-Fiction / Alternative History hybrid too. Others, I note, have called it Steam Punk. It’s pretty hard to place neatly into a genre and I won’t complain about that for even a second. The storyline is similarly hard to define, starts off as a Crime Thriller, but quickly gets Political and Philosophical with tints of a Romance and Revenge Thriller too. A murder investigation leads Eliana down a path that suggests someone is trying to throw the city into a state of panic. When we head down this path we meet all the players who are trying to lock down Hope City in a way that they benefit and others – Freedom Fighters – who look to liberate Hope City from the mainland and appointed politicians through means of terror attacks.
By far, for me, my favourite chapters were those where we were in the Androids viewpoints or spending time getting to know them through a foreign Point of View. Most of the time (more on that in a second) the Androids are very well done. I’m reminded of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep, I guess, but also Asimov’s work too. We are forced to consider whether and how we would allow Androids to integrate into our society, whether they can have meaningful relationships, at what point they become dangerous to humans and how we should interact with them as humans too. That’s all quite powerful stuff and we are forced to consider these things through numerous situations: robots taking an interest in human death, robots wondering about harming the city, robots being programmed by dangerous third parties, but also robots falling in love or making friends with humans and robots ‘dying’… I imagine every reader will leave with a different feeling on each issue after they’ve been forced to confront them by the author.
This is quite a lengthy book that never keeps you going in one direction for very long. In many ways this is refreshing and I never expected many of the twists and turns that the novel provides (and that I’m avoiding going into too much details about in order not to rob you from the same experience). In other ways this can be quite frustrating. One thing I was struck by was just how in-love with her boyfriend Eliana is at the start of the novel. She is absolutely infatuated with him and every kiss, touch and sexual encounter is given to us viscerally. All of a sudden though this seems to end, almost as if the author got bored of writing about it or realised it was getting a bit much and needed to move on. It was quite jarring and because Eliana’s character was defined by the intensity of her lust after Diego, seemed to change her character too. Similarly, as impressed as I was with the way Clarke investigates the question of what makes a human human, the Androids never quite feel ‘not-human’ enough for me and, like Eliana’s relationship with Diego, there is sometimes a lack of concurrence with how an android acts in one chapter compared to another… Almost as if the author is making them more human or more android depending on her needs all the time.
That said, I’m being picky and trying hard to do my job as an honest reviewer, picking out the few faults I could find. Ignoring the inevitable traps the author falls into writing about Androids and a little bit too much and then not quite enough romance, this is a solid book and one that really impressed me. Clarke’s biography says she is a tutor of composition and there is some really vivid and wonderful descriptions of people, places, emotions and experiences within. When you add this to the complex and hugely varied plot where there’s a massive amount going on and plenty to experience, Our Lady of the Ice is a real achievement and there’s certainly very little like it sitting on our shelves right now.
I will be amongst the first to pick up the sequel next year and see which direction Clarke takes us next, but I’m equally pushing for a prequel telling the history behind the Androids and the Park’s downfall!