The Cry of the Icemark has some excellent imaginative material to work with, but it’s almost as if once the author struck gold with the idea, he decided to leave it lying in the ground. The Cry of the Icemark therefore ends up disappointing more than rewarding.
It follows 14-yr-old Thirrin, princess and heir to the throne of Icemark, a small northern kingdom threatened by an aggressive massive southern empire and its never-lost-a-battle general. To survive, Thirrin and her father decide to look to their ancient enemies of the north against whom they’ve fought many battles: the werewolves and the vampire King and Queen.
Luckily, and I do mean luckily, as in barely explained at all, with the werewolves years of being enemies, of being hunted by humans, of being treated like animals is wiped away by a single two-minute encounter between Thirrin and the king of the werewolves. Nothing about this encounter and the subsequent treaty between the two races makes much sense with regard to the speed or enthusiasm with which it happens. It’s all glossed over far too quickly. This in fact is the major flaw throughout the novel. The werewolves, vampires, and giant leopards even farther to the north all are swept mysteriously under by Thirrin’s charm with no sense that some of them at least have been at war for literally centuries.
Even worse, none of these various species or their lands is explored in any detail. In their oddity and dark strangeness they are ripe for some depth, for some insight into their thinking or their cultures, but we get almost none of that. We’re told for instance that the vampires turn their nose up at blood “tainted” by animals, but since they can’t (supposedly) get human blood anymore since their loss in battle to Thirrin’s father, what then do they eat? The werewolves are so obviously intelligent, compassionate, even humorous — what took so long for rapprochement between them and humans? Questions like these (and ideally their answers) would go a long way toward giving the world creation a sense of reality and substance. Unfortunately though, too often the world seems created simply for plot rather than as a real place where the plot happens to real people.
The same lack of depth mars the characterization as both Thirrin and her young warlock friend Oskan are mostly two dimensional, shifting in maturity as the needs of the plot warrant and showing little growth or depth, or at least natural growth.
The plot of The Cry of the Icemark mostly divides into two parts. The first is an episodic and somewhat flat march north by Thirrin and Oskan to gather allies. While the allies themselves are a treat, as mentioned, Hill doesn’t do enough with them beyond simply introducing them. The second half of the plot deals with the invasion/siege by the southern empire and its psychotic general. Here the pace and tension pick up greatly and though some of the logistics seem a bit implausible (even for fantasy), Hill shows a better hand at crafting exciting battle scenes than he does in world or character building.
In the end, The Cry of the Icemark is a passable book, weak in many respects and disappointing in that its underlying creativity isn’t matched by the page-by-page presentation of the creativity. Based on the spark of imagination evident here, I’d pick up a second book by Stuart Hill, but probably wouldn’t give it a lot of time if its execution were as weak as here. The Cry of the Icemark isn’t recommended, but give the author a shot the next time around.
The Icemark Chronicles — (2005-2013) Ages 9-12. Publisher: The Icemark is a kingdom in grave danger. Its king has been killed in battle, its enemy lies in wait, and its fate rests on the shoulders of one girl. Thirrin Freer Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield, a beautiful princess and an intrepid warrior, must find a way to protect her land from a terrible invasion. She will forge an extraordinary alliance of noble Snow Leopards, ancient Vampires, and ferocious Wolf-folk. She will find unexpected strength in her friendship with a young warlock. And she will lead her allies to victory with her fierce battle cry: “Blood! Blast! And Fire!”