The Age of Ice by J.M. Sidorova

An epic debut novel about a lovelorn eighteenth-century Russian noble, cursed with longevity and an immunity to cold, whose quest for the truth behind his condition spans two thrilling centuries and a stunning array of historical events. St. Petersburg, Russia, 1740. The Empress Anna Ioanovna has issued her latest eccentric order: construct a palace out of ice blocks. Inside its walls her slaves build a wedding chamber, a canopy bed on a dais, heavy drapes cascading to the floor—all made of ice. Sealed inside are two jesters, one a disgraced nobleman, the other a humpback, a performer by birthright. On the Empress’s command—for her entertainment—these two are to be married, the relationship consummated inside this frozen prison. In the morning guards enter to find them half-dead. Nine months later, two boys are born.

Surrounded by servants and animals, Prince Alexander Velitsyn and his twin brother Andrei have an idyllic childhood on the family’s large country estate. But as they approach manhood stark differences coalesce. Andrei is daring and ambitious; Alexander is tentative and adrift. One frigid winter night on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow, as he flees his army post, Alexander comes to a horrifying revelation: his body is immune from cold.

J. M. Sidorova’s boldly original and genre-bending novel takes readers from the grisly fields of the Napoleonic Wars to the blazing heat of Afghanistan, from the outer reaches of Siberia to the cacophonous streets of nineteenth-century Paris. The adventures of its protagonist, Prince Alexander Velitsyn—on a life-long quest for the truth behind his strange physiology—will span three continents and two centuries, and will bring him into contact with an incredible range of real historical figures, from Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, to the licentious Russian Empress Elizaveta, and to English explorer Joseph Billings.

Romantic, thrilling, and rigorously historical, The Age of Ice is one of the most inventive debut novels of the year.–Description from Goodreads.

Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: July 23rd 2013 by Scribner
ISBN
1451692714 (ISBN13: 9781451692716)
My Thoughts:
Assessing this book for review is somewhat like trying to tell the entire world history is less than 300 words. It isn’t possible. Reading this novel is a journey through a world of history and amazing wonders and is a truly beautiful read. If you are into books that slowly and carefully unfold with excellent character development, “the Age of Ice” has you covered.

This is not an action filled book where things happen a mile a minute. The writing seems somewhat reserved and you never feel particularly close to the main character, but you never really have the desire to give up on him either. There is always a shield up between him and the reader, although I can’t help, based on the story, but feel that this was intentional.

The main character suffers from a “cold” condition, where any time he is riled up, either positively or negatively, he experiences a full body cold that allows him to hold snow without it melting and makes his desire for a normal relationship more than impossible. The idea that the author wrote his character somewhat impersonally matches that theme perfectly. I found that I, as the reader, spent my time trying to get inside his head and feel closer to him but continually came up short, which made me feel frustrated, just as the character did as he searched for someone to be close to. Well played, J.M. Sidorova.

This book spans a long period of time, and while I found the complicated tale interesting and well written, there were times when I felt my mind wander a bit while reading. The writing itself is solid. The author has an amazing grasp on how to use the proper language to evoke emotion, and the dialogue is excellent, although written in the same second hand delivery that makes it feel much less personal.

While I did have moments of wandering mind, there were many sections of this novel where I completely forgot myself and became so bound in the story that I could do nothing else but read, hoping the eventual result would be a happy one for the character that I had been with for the duration.

The ending of the book was a bit odd for me, and the reason why I have decided to go with four stars rather than five. I don’t want to include a spoiler, so I will proceed cautiously. This book, as I mentioned above, spans a longer time period than most. When it catches up to the more recent history of the world, the character makes a decision about how he will carry on, and I just didn’t feel that it quite worked with the rest of the book. It may have just been a personal expectation, but I felt the end struggled a bit to match the previous parts of this incredible Russian literature. I do give the author a lot of credit for dealing with important issues of environmental impact.

If you are going to read this book (and I recommend that you do) take some time away from life. Find a quiet place, and devote your mind to the story. It will consume you, amaze you and remind you that there are authors out there who use common words to create uncommon magic.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the Publisher, Scribner.

7 thoughts on “The Age of Ice by J.M. Sidorova”

  1. Thanks for the review, this sounds like a really interesting read although I confess it’s that image of the ice prison that has really piqued my interest. I’m definitely going to look out for this.

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