Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review: Our Lady of the Ice

Well this review is far later than I wanted it to be, both in terms of this blog's supposed update schedule and in general, I think when I read this book it was still cold outside! But hopefully this is a book that I'll be recommending to people for years to come, no matter the season.

Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke

In a different past, Hope City was once a quirky place to vacation, an enclosed amusement park in Antartica largely staffed by androids. But that dream-like place has faded and now it has no amusement park, too many people, and very little hope for it's inhabitants. PI Eliana Gomez hopes to save up enough money to leave the city behind for good, a dream her parents never achieved, while sentient android Sofia sees this inhospitable place as one where androids could gather to finally be free. 

While I still don't read as much science-fiction as I would like, I can still say confidently that this series has a fantastically unique setting. Set around the 1950s, on a version of Earth that tamed nuclear power far earlier than we did, Hope City is an enclosed city on Antartica that was formerly an Argentinian amusement park which I suppose makes it an Argentinian colony (although you do need a visa to leave). As it logically follows, this means that most, if not all, of the cast is not white* and three of the four viewpoint characters are women. Honestly the last character, a man, is the least used viewpoint character and I feel that he could've been cut entirely as a PoV character, I feel that the few scenes where he was used could have been inferred by a savvy reader on their own.

I did rather like the other three main characters quite a bit, Eliana, Sofia, and titular lady of the ice Marianella all had completely different goals and motivations and yet their stories fit together quite nicely. And each lady is treated with equal respect within her own story, we the readers know that intellectually Eliana isn't as smart as Sofia or Marianella (and lacks all of their connections and experiences) and yet whenever it's Eliana's POV she comes across as a character who is just as capable in her own situations, clever, and emotionally fleshed out. Likewise, when the story is focusing on Eliana or Marianella it seems like it will be impossible for the reader to like Sofia because of how harsh she is but in her story it's easy to understand and sympathize with her understanding. Obviously this is what you should expect from a book, all of the important characters are fleshed out and understandable to the reader by the end of the book, but this story does it better than many. 

Speaking about the story as a whole again, I'm torn between saying that the entire novel is rather unique or if it's simply a throwback to older sci-fi. I've been fairly vocal at how I feel like current sci-fi is obsessively focused on the here-and-now through it's overuse of dystopias (and dystopias-that-look-like-utopias) and at the very least this story feels fresh by how it avoids both of these ideas. Hope City isn't a nice place to live, it's isolated, entirely dependent on the whims of a faraway, colonial power, and it's near impossible for it's residents to leave, but that doesn't make it a dystopia. That simply makes it a city, one which a few characters even do love and see the value in, and it makes the setting feel lived in, thought-out. If people are worried this "retro" tone might make the book difficult to read don't worry, it's very friendly to modern sci-fi readers who enjoy "medium" (in-between light and hard) sci-fi and it lacks the weird sexism you find in a lot of the classics. There was one idea that niggled at me and it is a bit of a throwback, there's a line (brought up a couple of times) that Asia is much friendlier to cyborgs and it came off with a certain hint of exoticism that felt Othering. Thankfully it's not even a large detail in the story but it stuck out to me when it came up not once but twice.

Considering how small the two complaints I've listed here are, this is a very strong book both because of how engaging it is and how simply unique it feels. I like unique books, I read so much that I see the cliches even more often than most people and that makes me extra happy when I can recommend something completely different. At this point I don't think I'm going to make a "my favorite books of 2015" list, I just don't see time for it with my blogging schedule, but if I had then this book would be on it for sure. 

*a quick glance around the internet is telling me that modern-day Argentina is more white than many of it's neighbors (fewer native groups in area, fewer black slaves brought it), but I'm used to making the white,not hispanic or latino, and hispanic/latino distinction, possibly from filling out so many forms here in the US where that's how it's labeled.

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