Review of THE AGE OF ICE by J.M. SIDOROVA
(review based on an advance reading copy)
I would label THE AGE OF ICE historical fantasy, though the tale draws far more from history than from fantasy. Set in Russia beginning in 1740, history is as much a main character as our narrator Alexander. The speculative fiction element is slight, even debatable if you believe our narrator guilty of exaggeration, truth contortion, or flat-out lies. Prince Alexander Velitsyn possesses a peculiar resistance to cold. More than that, he creates cold. Much of the book follows Alexander’s attempts at understanding his unique qualities with varying levels of success, but he does pinpoint that extreme emotion chills his body past natural temperatures. This magical realism element has intriguing potential, but is hardly the story’s focal point.
I felt a little trepidatious near the beginning of the novel as all these different names spilled across the pages. I do admit to the occasional character confusion in THE AGE OF ICE, but for the most part names distinguish themselves as and when necessary. Some historical figures flit across the story while many other names are extras in this play: their primary purpose being a contribution to the overall picture of a bustling, crowded stage more than additional in-depth character studies.
Though engaging, THE AGE OF ICE struck me as an imperfect novel. There’s an absorbing story here, but it’s buried underneath dense and longwinded writing. Most of the chapters weigh in at over 50 pages and, as someone who always admires concision, I felt the word count of this book could easily be cut in half or less without losing anything important. In fact, a shorter, more tightly plotted draft would have earned higher marks in my opinion. All that said, I’m convinced this writing will appeal - as is - to some readers and, thus, this point may be more a matter of taste.
THE AGE OF ICE drew me in effortlessly, but struggled maintaining my investment. It’s unclear where the focus lies. The book reads like a biography, especially with how Alexander will suddenly skip ahead on a tangent or ramble almost conversationally. I would highly recommend this novel for book groups, since it begs for discussion. Sidorova has packed her tale full of interesting themes, but the end result feels somewhat disjointed. I couldn’t tell you what this book is about much more than: Alexander. It’s his story, told how he wants to tell it, left open for us to interpret as we will.