Ice is a sequel in the science fiction series Clarity, and is set primarily on the alien ice planet Seoorus populated by humanoids in a not-too-distant future; a future prepared by main protagonist Ren’s time-travelling mother Sanna Grant and her complement Alma Laine. Ice is a big departure from the first book The Watch’s setting: the post-apocalyptic ruins of Earth, rife with Doctors, Filavirus, and the ‘Union’. Instead of learning more about the fascinating world in The Watch, the author opted to expand the setting to include the Cryuuia Galaxy, controlled by the Lamsam-Eothern (Prime Minister) and therefore introduced a new problem for Ren and the crew aboard the ship Clarity: ‘acceptance’ into the galaxy by undertaking a ‘worth’ test.
As was the case in The Watch, Ren is an insecure, compassionate, and somewhat vulnerable character who is constantly assailed by fears. She has to struggle against forced technological synchronisation with the hated Captain Cecelia Laine, which assimilates her will with Cecelia’s and confuses her into trying to do what is best for her new ‘complement’. The synchronisation pairs the inquisitive and cautious side of Ren with the cold, determined, and commanding personality of Cecelia, which hinted to me that in order to grow Ren has to take measures that are averse to her instincts. As a result, her Moon-soul religion of compassion and her adventures with her ragtag friends on Earth may have to be abandoned by Ren, which is not a comfortable prospect for her.
When Cecelia’s infuriatingly accurate predictions go wrong, I read with anticipation an encounter with the superior aliens of the Cryuuia Galaxy. Here, I liked the sinister description of the aliens in the Cry’uuia assembly, and the commanding tone of the Lamsam-Eothern. It made me see the peril Ren and the crew faced if they failed to pass the ‘worth assessment’. They are given a chance to do this when they are exiled to the primitive humanoid planet of Seoorus under the care of the Soolt Tribe.
If I lost interest for a few pages, the author was consistently able to bring forward new ideas or subplots to fuel Ren’s experience on Seoorus. Ren was strongly in touch her with emotions, which gave her an insight into how her friends felt, connecting the lives of a number of distinct and not-so-distinct characters, and prompting her to act to help them all. This is where it becomes apparent that Ren finds it difficult to prioritise what is most important; she can’t save or manage everybody. Ren’s changing priorities and conflicts were fascinating throughout, and formed the backbone of Ice. There was a thread of continuity running through the series in the character Jasmine – who is a tempestuous fighter – and Ren’s growing realisation of her feelings for Rian Sloan, the leader of the group of her fellow vigilantes on Earth.
Criticism: some passages reminded me strongly of Dune by Frank Herbert, especially when Ren and the crew meet the Lamsam-Eothern, who calls them ‘witches’ and demands a test to determine worth; a concept that reminded me of the ‘gom jabbar’; and then exiles them to a barren planet. There were even some giant serpents in these scenes. Thankfully, the author didn’t dwell too long on these similarities and moved on to the story.
When the focus switched from Ren to the point of view of Tove Dunyenya and Oliver Booth, ch.21-22, my interest in the plot waned for those chapters. At 54% through, the pace needed to be turned up a notch. The nature and the presentation of the worth test was cryptic, and I couldn’t become interested in it. Beyond the tribal hunt and Ren’s concern for Jasmine’s sanity little else was happening. Ren’s amazing ability to know how the other main characters felt lessened the impact of events, making them reported rather than allowing me to witness what events were happening. The author can write action and plot scenes, as proven in The Watch, but there were far too few in Ice. Those I remember vividly because they are written excellently were the crew meeting the Lamsam Eothern, an altercation between Cecelia and Jasmine, a brief exciting encounter with another tribe, and the final chapter.
It was difficult to remember the individual attributes of the characters in the humanoid Soolt Tribe, whose names sounded similar and all began with ‘H’: ‘Holnom’, ‘Hsama’, ‘Hmyal’, ‘Hoonomlat’; to name a few. Personally, I found more excitement when the characters were preparing for the worth test, which I waited with bated breath for, and when they weren’t on Seoorus.
Overall, Ice had writing that flowed smoothly, meaningful emotions that are well described, and a main character that evoked feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. Ren grows, gathering an aptitude for learning, feeling anger, mustering confidence, and taking a massive decision to fight for her feelings. There are background histories that add depth to Soolt culture and reassure the reader that the author has taken the time to construct the culture and setting – Halmyiyo’s Cove to name just one. What do I want from another story by this author? A group of characters on an adventure as in The Watch, more close encounters between allies and allies–enemies, more ‘mystery’ and intrigue surrounding humanity’s technological development and its relation to Earth, the Union, the Doctors, manips, Jasmine, Cecelia, and Lamsam-Eothern. It looks like I want more continuity… Nonetheless, Ice was a great fulfilling story and is in many ways the ‘complement’ of The Watch. It would not be wise to underestimate author Briana Herlihy’s incredible writing ability, which I am sure will continue to sharpen as it already has.