A Line in the Ice by writing team Jamie Craig is a unique paramilitary fantasy/science-fiction romance that harkens back to golden-age sci-fi motifs used by Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. By that I mean that this novel has a fantastical element to its science nature—semi-sentient alien race of gentle giants, sacred alien texts capable of opening rifts into other dimensions via ritual, and idyllic worlds populated with allusions to Shakespeare.
It’s tricky trying to put my finger on what it is exactly about this book that gives me that same flavor I felt when reading Cat’s Eye and the Martian Chronicles. I guess it’s the characterization of old-school, stalwart heroism that makes me think of my earliest introduction to science fiction, as well as the almost fanciful rendering of alien species (both evil and benevolent), that seems comparable.
The story also incorporates more modern elements (such as a close third-person perspective, strong female leads, and steamy sex scenes), and the blending of the two ideas, modern and classic, is what makes the story unusual.
The premise of the story is that a six-person international team of soldiers is stationed in Antarctica to guard the world from monsters that emerge from a rift in the ice. They use gliders and guns and other modern gadgetry to take down the monsters, about which they know almost nothing. They have no idea where the monsters come from, what their objective is (other than killing humans), nor how to stop them from coming through the rift.
In the first chapter, a man comes through the rift, and the protagonist Charlie (a female captain) rescues him from the elements. It turns out he has crucial knowledge of the monsters’ origin and purpose as well as a weapon that can help the team stop them. The man, Lysander, comes from another world behind the rift and explains that the monsters are actually benevolent creatures being driven by another alien species with evil intent. He also explains that his people are descendants of World War I soldiers who initially fought the monsters and followed them into the rift in the early 1900’s.
All this is uncovered in the first three chapters, so I’m not really giving too much away. But to prevent any further spoilers, I’ll stop delineating the plot there and say that lots of gripping action follows as well as a racy romance between Charlie and Lysander.
Charlie is not your average plucky heroine. No one on the team doubts her capability or is surprised when she shows unusual bravery on the front lines, so to speak. Nor are all the men on the team attracted to her and her alone, leaving other female characters feeling either jealous or dutifully awed. She is a captain and a woman, and as such her actions seem logical and at times, heroic, even when she is making mistakes. I had no trouble sympathizing with her and wanting her to succeed.
Lysander, as I mentioned earlier, has that stalwart, old-world heroism that is very believable in a character who is both from this world and not from this world (I saw him as very similar to John Carter from the Barsoom books). Some of the book is from his perspective, which is not so unusual for romance novels but is a little less likely in a straight-up sci-fi story. I didn’t mind seeing pieces of the story from his eyes, though. He is also very sympathetic without being weak.
The other characters are a mixture of archetypes that worked well for the plot of the story. I liked all of the team members, even the grouchier ones, and they all seemed well enough defined that I didn’t get any of them mixed up with any of the others, even from the beginning. I also liked the demographically diverse nature of the team—not all Americans, not all white.
The only sticking point I had with the characters is that I didn’t really one hundred percent believe that they were military. There didn’t seem to be much of a chain of command except when it was convenient for the plot. I would have expected a group of career soldiers to be more hung up on rank and discipline than our intrepid heroes were. However, this did not in any way interfere with my enjoyment of the story, and could in fact be at least partially explained away by their isolation and the stressful mission.
Great plot. Great action sequences. The authors are particularly good at weaving information into the forward motion of the story. They have to cover a lot of back story with Lysander’s tale of his great-grandfather’s journey and what happened in the years since and who the enemy is etc. etc. And yet, the front of the story is just as action-packed as the back.
The story has excellent pacing, both page-turning battle scenes and slower-paced characterization scenes, that are interspersed enough to keep the reader from getting either burned out or bored.
The climax is satisfyingly brutal (that is all I’ll say about that), and the ending is justified and fulfilling. The best part is that the authors DO NOT PULL THEIR PUNCHES. People get hurt, as you would expect them to in a war.
The writing style is like air. Nothing about it stood out to me, which is a good thing. I didn’t notice any particular passages of prose that I just loved. There were several bits of dialogue that I liked a lot. But none of the description really set my hair on fire, with the exception that the authors were always faithful about setting. If it was cold, it was ice cold, and you (the reader) felt it with the characters. Vice versa if it was hot. Which is the way you want it in an action novel. You’re not really looking for languorous illustrations of sunsets reflecting off icebergs. I’m happy with a few details dropped about how the setting affects the characters.
This book is for you if…
You like science fiction that deals with interactions with aliens rather than futuristic weapons, spaceships, or robots. And if you like a healthy dash of romance mixed in.
This book is not for you if…
You prefer your science fiction pure. In other words, if you like you’re golden age, golden age, your romance, romance, or your military, strictly military.
Buy it, borrow it, or bypass it
Buy it. It’s a good, fast, absorbing read.
One final note
The cover art for this book is fabulous, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Please vote for my blog in the traffic-breaker poll for this tour. The blogger with the most votes wins a free promotional twitterview and a special winner’s badge. I want that to be me! You can vote in the poll by visiting the official Line in the Ice blog tour page and scrolling all the way to the bottom.