I've been reading Author Hill's new book this week. I'm always concerned when I read something written by someone I know, for fear I'll find it lacklustre, or boring or (even worst) badly written and that the next time I see them they'll ask me to comment on it. I'm not very good at lying beside I always want my own creations to be critiqued with honesty. If it's bad tell me its bad…I know I can't please everyone and tend to write for my own pleasure more anyway.
That said 'Blade of Fire' (the second book in 'The Icemark Chronicles') is a better book than the first and pretty much thumps along at a thrilling pace. The story takes place many years later with Thirrin and Oskan all grown up and ruling their northern kingdom while having had a brood of children. The youngest of these is
Charlemagne, the runt of the litter, crippled by polio when he was a babe. Though the parent's obvious favourite, Charlemagne (or Sharley as he is none to family and friends) feels unable to perform as a true macho Prince of the Icemark. This is a nice touch and differentiates the character from the first hero Thirrin.
Enter Scipio Bellorum, the imperial commander of the Empire, still smarting from the loss of the war in the first book returns with his sadistic sons in tow and a larger mechanically enhanced army ready to wipe the Icemark off the map.
Sharley is given the role of taking the countries refugees out of the Icemark, across the sea to the deserts of the south. Smarting and hurt that he is being made to leave when even his gothic sister Medea is allowed to stay he is none the less intrigued by his father's prophesy that he will return to the north, "a blade of fire in your hand."
After this the book splits in two. We get the views of Sharley and his adventures as he travels to lands familiar to the YA reader and yet somewhat alien and fantasised. A city based on renaissance Venice, a desert kingdom reminiscent of Saudi, and a land populated by Zulu type warriors. This bringing together of different peoples with Sharley's own Nordic people plus the creatures of the Icemark, their differing cultures, ideas, mythology and religion contrasts against the stark atheistic, colonial society of Bellorum. In one society all work together through understanding in the other ideas are imposed. It is perhaps in this area, more than any other that its intended young adult market is noticeable.
God and Goddesses also play a large part in the book, but though minor deities are evident, the true Gods, though alluded to, never make an appearance. May be all these differing Gods are one and same, if they are they remain firmly apposed to interference.
One section that did surprise was the ending - (***SPOILER ALERT*** if you intend to read the book turn away now…go on shut your eyes…stop peeking!). The story is one of war, and the author does not pull any punches, it's bloody vicious and dirty. The final defeat of Bellorum is quick and decisive and his execution swift but without little meaning, brutal when seen through post Saddam execution eyes.
It's also Author Hill's birthday tomorrow and I look forward to catching up with him soon here or in Leicester.
I also quick read through 'The Homecoming' by Ray Bardbury. This is a short but gothic Halloween story, with a cast of vampiric and mummified aunts and uncles decending on the home of another young and crippled boy, though this child is merely psychologically crippled by the fact he does not have any of the weird traits when compared to the rest of his family.
The story is old (originally published in Mademoiselle in 1946), but this new version has been illustrated by Dave McKean. If you have not seen his work, go and look it up now…right now. It's wonderfully scratchy and atmospheric and dark and innocent and sunset struck…all at once and at the same time. Beautiful.
Read this week:
Blade of Fire by Stuart Hill
The Homecoming by Ray Bradbury and illustrated by Dave McKean.