on October 27th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Our reviews of this author: Star's End
Last year, I became a big fan of Cassandra Rose Clarke after reading her adult novel debut The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, an emotional tale about love, loss and androids that shattered my heart to pieces and left me pining for more. So ever since I learned about her new book Our Lady of the Ice, I have been counting the days. Its premise sounded captivating too, a mystery drama unfolding inside a city encapsulated by a glass dome, the only protection against the frigid darkness of an Antarctic winter raging outside.
The novel also features an intriguing cast. Eliana Gomez is a female PI, taking on as many jobs as she can in the hopes of scraping together enough money to get out of Hope City and head for the mainland. Her boyfriend Diego Amitrano is the adopted son of and right-hand man of Ignacio Cabrera, the city’s most notorious crime boss. Lady Marianella Luna is an Argentinian aristocrat and the celebrity face of an independence movement to build agricultural domes, a project which would help free Antarctica from the control of the mainland. Last but not least is Sofia, an android fighting for a different kind of freedom, envisioning Antarctica as a safe and human-free haven for all of robotkind.
Despite being a brand new story featuring all-new characters, I was thrilled that in some ways Our Lady of the Ice felt very much like the spiritual successor to The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. It explores some similar themes, such as: What does it mean to be human? How far would you go for love? What is the price of personal freedom? Still, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter was more of a character study, looking at these questions on a more personal and intimate level. Our Lady of the Ice, on the other hand, widens the scope. Here we get to see through the eyes of four very different characters who are all connected to each other in some way, weaving a rich narrative that readers get to experience from multiple angles.
All this also takes place at the bottom of the world, in Hope City, Antarctica – a settlement that grew out of the remnants of a failed amusement park built near the turn of the century in the coldest, most forbidding place on earth. Many of its citizens are descendants of the hundreds of workers who arrived decades ago to build and maintain the park. The city is also home to a great number of robots, from repair drones to fully sentient androids or “andies” that were left over when the park closed down.
Human or non-human, everyone is out for something. Eliana only has her eyes set on a ticket out of Hope City. Diego is torn between carrying out unsavory errands for Cabrera, who is like a father to him, and his love for Eliana, who makes him want to become a better person. Marianella has a huge secret, and she’s terrified of being found out. And Sofia…well, Sofia probably has the most astonishing story of them all. She has reasons to be more motivated than most. Programmed to be a “comfort girl” during the amusement park’s heyday, music is written into her code to trigger some very unpleasant reactions, making Sofia highly averse to any old song recorded before the 1930s. It’s frightening and it’s heartbreaking. I love how this book stirred up my emotions. Time after time the characters will do things to make you hate them, but then the story will always remind you again of their respective situations and why they made those choices. I felt much the same way reading about Cat in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Cassandra Rose Clarke’s characters are complex and multi-faceted; even when they are being frustrating, you can’t help but connect with them.
Furthermore, everywhere you look is another reminder of what Hope City once was, a bright and shining testament to humankind’s triumph over the elements, now reduced to a faltering system run by corrupt gangsters and two-faced politicians who are out only for themselves. If you have ever played Bioshock, Hope City reminded me a lot of where that game takes place, a beautiful-utopia-turned-crumbling-dystopia under the sea. There’s a feeling of isolation from the rest of the world and a sense of helplessness that emanates from the population, really complementing the dark mystery plot as well as the fatalistic and cynical attitudes of the protagonists.
The resulting effect of this eclectic hodgepodge is something truly amazing: A sci-fi novel infused with hard-boiled noir vibes featuring wonderfully flawed characters in one of the most mind-blowingly unique settings I’ve ever seen. I found this book simply irresistible.
This review originally appeared on The BiblioSanctum.
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