Kim's Reviews > Ice Song

Ice Song by Kirsten Imani Kasai
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's review
Nov 07, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, science-fiction
Read in November, 2009

Please note: I wrote almost a complete review of this book last night, and then Safari threw me off and my review disappeared. So if you don't like this review, just know that the original was a work of astonishing beauty that would have moved you to tears!

When I grade student papers, I will often give a student a higher grade if s/he has attempted something daring and put forth an original idea, even if the execution was somewhat flawed.

(In over five years of teaching, this has happened maybe once or twice!).

Ice Song, in many ways, reminds me of those student papers. I think the premise and the heroine are amazing, although the execution is a bit unbalanced. My specific problems were with the narrative mode, and with the world-building, but none of them were grave enough to detract from how impressed I was with the novel overall.

To begin with, Ice Song is a novel that I would term interstitial, in that it has elements of both dystopian science fiction and epic fantasy and blends them, if not seamlessly, at least very well. In the frozen land of the Sigue, Sorykah Minuit works on an ice-drilling submarine. Sorykah is the only woman working on the submarine, but, more remarkably, she is also a Trader, somebody who shifts genders in times of great stress. As a Trader, Sorykah is unusual, in that she has borne children (also Traders), and when these children are kidnapped, she sets out on a quest through the frozen wastes to get them back.

Traders are not the only remarkable creatures who inhabit the world of the Sigue; it is also the home of mutant creatures known as somatics, who blend human and animal traits. For example, early one Sorykah meets Rava, an "octameroon" or human woman with octopus tentacles for legs; other somatics include a walrus-man and a dog-faced girl. These animal/human hybrids are intriguing, because they show how the genres of fantasy and science fiction are blended here; they are mutants, but in the family of the villainous collector Matuk, the mutation is also treated like a curse. Unfortunately, the somatics also brought out my skepticism at times, particularly with blending of incompatible creatures, i.e. those who dwell in water and on land.

I like strong heroines, and I particularly like heroines who demonstrate their strength not only by kicking ass, but through acts of endurance, courage, and resourcefulness, and the latter fits Sorykah quite well. She does not control her gender shifts, and she does not share memories with her male alter, Soryk, which means she finds herself in certain places and situations with no idea how she came to be there. Sorykah's quest throughout the book is ostensibly for her missing children, but it is also for the ability to control her transformation, to have some retention of Soryk's memories, and to convey to him her own. Throughout the novel, not only does she have to rescue her children from a monster, and hopefully before he learns their secret nature, she has to do so knowing that, at any time, she might shift into someone who does not know them, whose life and general priorities don't necessarily match up with her own. It's the equivalent to trusting the fate of your children to someone you've never met; only in this case the someone is you!

Ice Song is a thought-provoking book written in richly descriptive language, about a world I want to revisit and about a heroine I won't soon forget.
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