Review: The Ice House

The Ice House by Tim Clare (Canongate)

Delphine is an old woman. For years she’s lived with Thompson her dog, and Martha, a long-time – though not human – friend she made as a young girl. We join this story in a melancholy place. Delphine has cut herself off to concentrate on her studies; she is “just an eccentric old lady, writing a little volume on comparative mythology”. Another friend, Alice, has dementia and is in a care home. Delphine visits with gifts of chocolate buttons and to try to reminisce – Alice and Delphine met in a Sanatorium in an old rambling house in Norfolk in the early 1930s, when Delphine was just 13 and Alice 17. Sometimes Alice doesn’t know who Delphine is, doesn’t remember the remarkable things that happened in the old house, that they had encountered another world while they were there…and so the story begun by Tim Clare in ‘The Honours’ continues.

The Ice House is not exactly a direct continuation of The Honours, this makes a really interesting change from the chronological arc book series usually take. I think it adds to the strangeness of the telling; how many of our heroines do we return to, to find they are now 60 years older? Delphine won’t be climbing any chimneys or barn roofs in this one, I thought…however she is still a crack shot – she’s kept her hand in, just in case. She feels time is running out – as a 13 year old girl she encountered astonishing things, defended our world from something terrible from the other world – Avalonia. Delphine has lost a lot of friends in the intervening years – these were the only ones who knew what she had gone through and, maybe like an old soldier needing to revist a battlefield, she’d like to find her way back and to some resolution.

Running parallel to Delphine’s story is a that of a new character, Hagar. Hagar’s a centuries old kick-ass assasin-nun in the body of a young girl – unending youth she’s paid a high price for (she can only gain her freedom from the Grand Duc at his death – and this will also require the death of Delphine). Delphine is eventually shown the way to the gate by an unlikely ally. This is the a gate she saw her father and her great friend Henry go through a whole lifetime ago.

Delphine – and Alice – finally enter the strange other world, in rejuvenated bodies, to fight another battle upon which everything depends. They find themselves in Avalonia – a kind of late medieval world of city states, dukedoms and emerging countries vying for supremacy. Avalonia is riven with power struggles and on the brink of war – just as England was in Delphine’s youth. They also find Delphine’s father, and Patience De Groot who befriended Delphine back in the Sanatorium, along with others we met back in The Honours. A whole parallel world* exists in Avalonia, and, just as back in Norfolk in the 1930s, those who’ve received “the honours” are at the heart of everything.

This is a book filled with action – which Tim Clare writes so well; long cinematic fight scenes must be difficult to pull off in words alone, but these are as heart-in-the-mouth making as any you’ll see in, say, the Marvel films. It’s not just all about fighting though; we’re in a world of big ideas here – about youth and age, power, war, self sacrifice and selfishness, about who you can trust and who you can’t. There’s a lot going on in this book, it requires your attention and it’s totally worth giving it (I’m going to need to read it again as I’m sure there’s much I’ve not properly taken in!).

Like ‘The Honours’ this is a gripping read, I find I like my fiction a bit on the wierd side these days and this is wierd but is still (like the first part of the tale) completely accessible. Allow yourself to be sucked into this world and I don’t think you’ll regret it…I do think it’ll be easier to follow if you have read the The Honours** – but it’s up to you of course! (by the way you can read my review of The Honours here).

The Ice House was published by Canongate in May 2019. Thanks to them for providing a review copy via NetGalley, I had to go out and buy one too because… just look at that gorgeous cover.

*I love parallel world stories, all the way back to Alice’s adventures, and Narnia of course.

**I find it completely disconcerting to read any series out of order.

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