Monday, November 20, 2017

Prisoner of ice and snow by Ruth Lauren

"For the crime of attempted murder of a member of the royal family in the realm of Demidova, I sentence you to life in prison, beginning in Tyur'ma"

I have said this on previous occasions but I just marvel at the inventiveness of authors and the power of words to take the reader right inside a scene.  Prisoner of Ice and Snow is simply a splendid and utterly engrossing book. I actually gasped out loud at one point when Valor faces yet another terrible danger.

Political stability in Demidova relies on the return of an elaborate music box to the rightful owners from the neighboring kingdom of Magadanskya.  The treasure has been stolen and Valor's twin sister Sasha has been found guilty and sent to the notorious prison built to hold children under 16 called Tyur'ma.  This is a terrifying place with huge tattooed guards and no one has escaped in 300 years but Valor knows she must commit a crime, be captured, be sent to the prison and then she will rescue her sister.

Valor picks the state occasion when the music box is to be returned (it has been stolen but the ceremony is proceeding) to attempt an assassination of the Prince.  She is such a skilled archer she actually has no intention of killing him and her arrow strikes just to one side but this is enough to send every guard in a race across the city to capture her.

Once inside the prison Valor discovers it is far worse than she imagined. 

"You will work in the mines, or anywhere else in the prison we tell you to.  You will eat when you are told to, you will sleep when you are told to, you will work when you are told to. If you reach the age of sixteen ... you will be transferred to the adult prison ... If you are caught with contraband items you will be punished.  If you cause trouble ... you will be punished."

Valor is punished over and over again.  The worst is when she and her sister are both placed inside ice domes.  The cold is unbearable and the writing so powerful I felt frozen too.

Valor does manage an escape but the real tangle in this book comes from decisions about who to trust and who is an informer.  I really had no idea about this until quite near the end and so, early on in the story, I decided to trust no one.  Valor does not follow this advice and so she and her sister are placed in dangerous and distressing situations over and over again.

Here is an alternate cover and the one from the German edition.  It is always interesting to see how different book designers approach a text.

Take time to read the Kirkus review which mentions the promise of a sequel.  I now discover the sequel it will be available early in 2018.

One real strength of this book comes from the vivid descriptions of people and places.  Here are a few examples :

"The queen sat highest on a silver throne inset with pearls and backed by a huge fan of hundreds of peacock tail feathers. She wears her official robes of justice, deep blue with gold brocade on the cuffs and collar."

"The prince's cloak is clasped at the throat with a golden fist, revealing the high-collared peacock-blue tunic her wears underneath ... gold embroidery covers the front of it all the way up to the collar, which stands stiffly around his neck."

"The doctor takes my hands and smears the contents of another bowl over my skin.  It tingles, then soothes, taking the fire out of the burns. ... She wraps soft white bandages  around my palms and each of my fingers."

I rarely give ratings but this is a five out of five, ten out of ten, totally perfect book which all avid readers should rush out and grab today.  Prisoner of Ice and Snow is Ruth Lauren's debut novel which excites and amazes me. I eagerly await more books form this talented UK author.  Here is an interview with Ruth.

I would follow Prisoner of ice and snow with Fearless by Tim Lott and The wolf wilder by Katherine Rundell.

This fresh and exciting middle-grade debut effortlessly melds an unforgettable protagonist, a breathless plot, and stunning world-building—and is impossible to put down. Night Owl Book Cafe

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