Published by Saga Press on October 27 2015
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: Full of the same surreal and desolate atmosphere that I loved in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, Clarke brings us an irresistible story full of dangerous and desperate characters, in one of the most unique settings I’ve seen in some time.
The doors screeched open and Eliana stepped out onto the abandoned platform. She could see how it had once been part of an amusement park: the murals of Antarctic animals greeted her from the walls, and on the platform was a line of wrought-iron metal benches that stretched out into the shadows. But the murals were faded and the benches covered in dust, and for a moment Eliana considered turning around and walking back into the train.
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter was one of my favorite books of 2012, and I’ve been waiting three long years for a new book by Cassandra Rose Clarke. I’m happy to report that her latest has all the qualities I loved in her last adult science fiction story, and much more. This story is packed full of intimately developed characters, fascinating world building and soul crushing emotion, all tied together with a fantastic plot that kept me turning the pages as fast as I could. In fact, there is so much to talk about that I’m a little intimidated to write this review!
Our Lady of the Ice takes place in Hope City, Antarctica, a remote and dying city that is practically cut off from mainland Argentina. The only way for people to leave Hope City is to secure an expensive and hard-to-obtain visa, and passage on a ship can only be found during the warmer months of the year. Citizens live under a glass dome, which keeps out the deadly cold but makes those who live there feel like prisoners. The main business is producing atomic energy for the mainland, but the people of Hope City aren’t allowed to use it for themselves. Instead, they rely on a slowly disintegrating electrical grid that has been flickering on and off as of late, throwing everyone into a panic.
At the heart of the city is the old amusement park, a once vibrant adult playground run by androids, which has been closed and is now home to the remaining “andies” who no longer serve a purpose, but have taken over the park for themselves. Rumor has it that the park is a dangerous place for humans, especially at night, and so the andies live mostly undisturbed, except when the city needs robotic parts to repair the maintenance drones that keep Hope City humming along.
The story revolves around four main characters: Eliana Gomez, a human private investigator who wants nothing more than to get the hell out of Hope City; Diego, Eliana’s boyfriend, who is the right-hand man to the notorious mobster Cabrera; Marianella Luna, a famous aristocrat who dreams of making Hope City self-sustaining, but whose terrible secret might destroy her first; and Sofia, a calculating and dangerous android who has her own plan to change the city. All four lives intertwine when Cabrera hires someone to steal Lady Luna’s secret documents, which sets off a chain of events that will change everything.
One of Clarke’s strengths is creating atmosphere, and this is one of the most atmospheric stories I’ve read in a long time. I can always tell when I encounter a fictional world that is different and special, because I find it hard to come back to the “real” world when I’ve finished reading the book. Even days later, I can’t seem to shake the feelings and emotions that Our Lady of the Ice gave me. Clarke’s world is both familiar and strange, magical and unsettling, hopeful and depressing. It’s an odd combination that somehow works, or at least it worked for me. I guess I would call this alternate history noir, because of the odd mixture of the old and the futuristic. Androids and drones are a part of daily life, but the world has an overall “old fashioned” feel to it: characters listen to music on record players, type on typewriters, use rotary dial phones and get from place to place on a rickety system of trains.
Most of my favorite scenes took place in the abandoned amusement park, a setting that reminded me of a run-down Tomorrowland in Disneyland, for some reason. I adored the android characters, but I also loved the interactions between humans and androids, especially the scenes where Eliana seeks refuge in the park and makes friends with an android named Luciano. My very favorite scene in the entire book revolves around the two of them and involves rain. I won’t tell you any more than that, because it’s such a magical moment, and I definitely don’t want to ruin the surprise.
But despite the wonderful world-building, it’s the characters who steal the show. If you’re looking for a story with strong female protagonists, then you won’t be disappointed. Eliana, Marianella and Sofia ARE the story, and the other characters simply revolve around them. Each one is trying to change her life, but having a hard time with the transition. Eliana is in love with Diego, but she hates that he works for Cabrera. Her dilemma is just how badly does she want to leave Hope City, and can she leave Diego behind? Marianella is a truly good person with a dangerous secret (and no, I won’t tell you what it is!), who only wants to make life better for the people of Hope City. She’s also mixed up with a shady man, someone she’s put her trust in, but who turns out to be double-crossing her.
And Sofia’s story is tragic because she’s a robot who was programmed as entertainment. Her programming kicks in whenever a certain type of music is played, and you can bet there are MALE characters who use that to their advantage. I was happy to see a romance between two of the women, but it’s braided into the story so subtly that it doesn’t overshadow the plot.
Most of the men in the story are unsavory in one way or another, although I did feel sorry for Diego, who actually feels bad about the jobs he carries out for Cabrera, although not bad enough to stop. The underlying theme here is control: who has it, who’s trying to break away from it, and how it destroys lives.
Ah, there is so much more I want to talk about! But this review is already way too long. Readers who love complex stories that make you think and feel, take note: THIS is how you write a top-notch story. Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The quote above was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.