Sunday, August 21, 2011

Series Review: The Icemark Chronicles by Stuart Hill

Book #1: The Cry of the Icemark
Genre: YA fantasy
Pages: 512 (paperback)
Published: 2005 by Chicken House

My Take:

Today I'd like to share a trilogy of books which I've loved and been impressed by for a long time.  I read The Cry of the Icemark in seventh grade, and the third book, Last Battle of the Icemark, only last week.  The series is aimed at MG and YA readers, but the books really do have something for everyone: magic, romance, war, and most importantly, hilarious and endearing characters.

Thirrin Freer Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield is the thirteen year old princess of the Icemark, a tiny snowbound country surrounded on all sides by enemies and harsh mountain wilderness.  When the powerful Polypontian Empire, led by the conniving General Scipio, turn their enormous eye on the unprotected Icemark at last and her warrior king father falls in battle, Thirrin must search for allies among the most unlikely of the Icemark's former foes.  She meets an unexpected ally in Oskan Witchson, a young warlock whose power and empathy perfectly complement Thirrin's impulsiveness.  Together, the princess  and her new adviser risk their lives as envoys to the mysterious Wolf People who roam the mountains, a tribe of Amazon-like warriors, a nation of mythical  snow leopards as big as horses and with twice as many teeth.  Thirrin even ventures to the infamous Land-of-the-Ghosts and attempts to forge an alliance with Their Vampiric Majesties-- a pair of sangfroid immortals who have lorded over their fellow vampires for untold centuries.  But as the Icemark and their new-found mythical allies prepare to face the scientifically-based Polypontian Empire in an epic battle for the Icemark's capital, it occurs to Thirrin that the time of freedom and coexistence among creatures in the north may have already ebbed and waned.

Author Stuart Hill writes battle scenes fantastically-- the only writer I can think of who captures the intensity and chaos so perfectly and captivatingly is JRR Tolkien.  The first book remains my favorite of the Icemark Chronicles.  There are a lot of proper nouns and names at first, but readers will quickly grow to love these unusual (to say the least) characters and their funny quirks.  Flame-haired Thirrin is a true warrior-at-heart and I loved her chemistry with Oskan despite their vast differences and conflicting backgrounds.  My favorite of Thirrin's allies are her most reluctant ones: Their Vampiric Majesties.  Their biting sarcasm and adherence to the laws of actual vampires (no sparkling or feeding upon mountain lions) is entertaining and refreshing.
Book #2: Blade of Fire
Pages: 640 (paperback)
Published: 2007 by Chicken House

This sequel to Cry of the Icemark could well be called Icemark: NG-- Icemark: The Next Generation.  I was skeptical at first when I saw that this book skipped ahead twenty years and picked up just as a new battle with the Polypontian Empire and the vicious General Scipio Bellorum was about to be waged for the Icemark.  Bellorum is accompanied by his teenage sons, Sulla and Octavius (Ring a bell, much?  Yep, the Polypontian Empire are more or less the Romans.),  tactical geniuses like himself who are equally bloodthirsty.  Queen Thirrin and her beloved Oskan have children, too: three sons and two daughters.

As war approaches, Thirrin sends her son Sharley, crippled long ago by polio, to the Southern Continent as a diplomat.  Sharley, angry at being sent away like a child, takes the reins of his own destiny and travels to befriend new allies in the form of the Desert People and their Crown Prince.  As Bellorum attacks the outskirts of the Icemark with a new fleet of terrifying airships and defeat for the allies seems inevitable, the teenage princess Medea broods alone in her tower rooms.  Alone of Thirrin's children, Medea has inherited her father's magical power.  But unlike Oskan, Medea is intrigued and enthralled by the Dark.  As her warrior brothers and sisters prepare to make their last stand, Medea prepares for the betrayal which she hopes will set her above her hated family forever.

Blade of Fire very nearly improved upon the first book.  The story is one which makes it impossible to put down and the new glimpses we get of this world's magic are beyond cool.  Thirrin and Oskan are still very much major characters despite their children taking the stage.  As in the first book, there are quite a few devastating deaths among major characters.  One death scene in particular I will always remember-- it was beyond sad.
Book #3: Last Battle of the Icemark
Pages: 480 (paperback)
Published: 2008 by Chicken House

In this final book in the Icemark trilogy, Thirrin and her myriad of allies face what may be the greatest challenge to their nation yet: a brutal warrior Queen whom commands a legion of hoards into the realms of the Icemark and the Polypontian Empire.  (Think the Mongols invading Europe.)  Meanwhile Medea is caught in the limbo realm of the Darkness and plotting her revenge against her family and her father Oskan, whom she has come to loathe as much as she adores.  She joins forces with Cronus, embodiment of evil and... her grandfather.

Fewer new characters and nations are introduced than in previous books, though the cast list still grows several names longer.  The Icemark and the Polypontian Empire joining forces against Erinor (the warrior Queen) was very much unexpected-- yet everything which occurred made for the perfect conclusion to this fantastic trilogy.  The beginning of this third book, unlike the other two, was just a little bit slow, but things picked up fairly quickly after that.  Seeing as I read this book years after the others, it was a lot like being reunited with old friends.  I love it when you discover a sequel to an old book or series which you'd half-forgotten about.  Medea becomes a major player and a major force of evil, and I loved seeing more of her sister Cressida as well.  Her awkward relationship with Leonidas, the son of a Polypontian General, was hilarious (largely due to everyone trying to set them up together), and just meant to be.  I HATED the invading queen, even more than I hated General Bellorum, so as a villain she was perfectly written.  The subplot with their Vampiric Majesties, without giving anything away, was amazing and more than any fan could have hoped for.  Once again, a major beloved character dies, one I didn't expect to die... but the ending does a lot to soften the blow.  Loved this book as much as the previous ones.

Overall Series Rating:


~Valen~ said...

Because of your enthusiasm over The Cry of the Icemark, in your Underappreciated Books post, I actually ordered it from Amazon at a very good bargain price and am awaiting its arrival!


Aylee said...

It's amazing the series you come across that you've never even heard of before, but sound amazing and perfect and right up my alley! Adding this to my tbr now!

MedCLyLin said...

I loved this trilogy but had completely forgotten about it. I can't wait for the prequel to come out in december

Nic @ Irresistible Reads said...

This is the first I have heard of The Icemark Chronicles but it sounds really good. Fantastic reviews :)

~Ang said...

I have never heard of this trilogy but have now added it to my TBR list! They sound exciting!

Kat said...

@MedCyLin-- Prequel, you say? I heard a rumor about the prequel a long time ago; heard it was called Redrought and about Thirrin's father? Must look it up-- thanks for the tip-ff! :)

@Aylee-- So glad to hear it! When I was younger, I really read a lot of 'obscure' books, and found a lot of hidden gems along the way.

@Valen-- Yay for bargain prices! Who says bloggers don't sell books, huh? Hope you enjoy Cry of the Icemark! :)

Lisa Shafer said...

I met Stuart Hill right after the first book came out. He was asked to replace an ailing Cornelia Funke at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and he was a bit grumpy about it, as everyone kept flocking to the better-known authors. I bought Cry of the Icemark and got him to autograph it, promising him that if the book was as good as it sounded, I'd put it on my reading list at school. It was, and I kept my word, even though I doubt he cares.
This whole series is VERY popular in the school where I teach; there's always a kid carrying one of the volumes around.
I'm glad to see you're giving the series some publicity.

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