A fantasy series that respects its audience, features spectacular world building, and powerful themes that resonate in today’s modern world? Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Wellthat’s exactly what you’ll get from Stuart Hill’s book Cry of the Icemark. Hill creates a vibrant world filled with mythical species, diverging viewpoints, and he never pulls his punches while weaving together his book about a warrior princess in a land of ice and snow.
Cry of the Icemark focuses on the story of Thirrin Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield, a young princess in Icemark, a snowbound country sandwiched between the vicious Polypontian Empire and Land-of-the-Ghosts. When the cruel and ambitious General Scipio Bellorum turns his eyes to the Icemark, Thirrin must gather all the allies she can in order to protect her country.
The world of Cry of the Icemark unfolds gradually for the reader, first introducing Thirrin's home in the capital before revealing the intricate layers of the werewolf, vampire, and leopard civilizations around her. Hill creates a clear hierarchy and unique societies within the different cultures, but his presentation of his world sometimes lack finesse.
Hill does not talk down to his reader, he does not indulge in long monologs or paragraphs of world building. Instead, he integrates it into the story and respects the audience enough to understand what's happening. It is world-building at its best, trusting his readers when oftentimes middle-school readers are not respected by the author.
But, this also means certain elements of the exposition feel hurried. Specifically, when we first meet a werewolf, the reader is barely aware that they exist in this world. From Thirrin we learn that werewolves are seen to be animalistic and unable to speak, let alone have their own society. This precedent is barely established before Thirrin learns that there is more to werewolves than she believed. This lessens the impact of Thirrin’s revelations, leaving the audience behind on her emotional ride.
The various military battles are where Cry of the Icemark hits its stride. A blend of action and excitement told by someone who understands how to strategize, how an army moves, and how to create a sense of that duty for each character. Where other moments of the story drag on with frequent visits to Thirrin's future-allies, Hill takes his time describing the battles with intricate details while capturing the fear and thrill of battle.
Hill also doesn't hide the devastation of war from his readers. After Thirrin's first true battle, she is exhilarated and proud of her victory, and yet she breaks down sobbing. It is not just the loss of her own troops, but also just the cruelty of war that forces men to kill one another. This becomes one of the most powerful moments where the readers can understand this commanding and pigheaded princess.
Thirrin Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield is a powerful character, but often times the reader is divorced from her emotions. While you are easily pulled into the story, with the omniscient narrator who allows us to see the world through the eyes of Thirrin, Bellorum, her friend and magical aid Oskan, and other characters, it can be difficult to connect with one particular character.
Perhaps one the highlights of this book series
ishow Thirrin learns and accepts the different cultures she encounters. When Thirrin realizes werewolves can talk and they have a king, she demands that her father not only spare the king's life, but she makes an alliance with him. Thirrin does not understand the finer points of the magical world, but she listens to the advice of Oskan and the werewolf king Grishmak.
When Thirrin is too stubborn and unwilling to listen, she often struggles under the weight of protecting her country. But as soon as she listens to her advisors and talks with the different peoples whose customs are foreign to her own, she finds a way to become friends with them.
It is a viable lesson in today's world, adding value to an already rich story that appeals to both mature middle-school readers and any adults who want to read along. It's worth the adventure.