I’ve read other books by Patty Jansen, and like her science fiction, so I picked up one of her fantasies to try. This world is complex with many layers running through it. There are few simple answers or clear villains and heroes. The one constant is power, or more specifically control, but what that means for each character is different.
Tandor is a mix of hero trying to overthrow an illegitimate government and villain willing to do whatever necessary to achieve his aims. But that is far from the whole of his nature as his care for the imperfects he has rescued fights with his need to use them in his plan. As an imperfect himself, he sees the benefits in what he offers them as much as the loss, but doesn’t understand the rage that drives his servitor to fight his control absolute.
Isandor, an imperfect Tandor rescued a long time ago and placed with the woman he loves, has grown up in the capital city with an instinctive command of icefire. He also sought forbidden books that speak of icefire to learn more. Still, he joined the Knighthood when being an imperfect means abandonment on the ice floes when newborn. This is a policy the Knights brought into practice when they overthrew the old king because imperfects can use icefire, and yet they have not noticed Isandor’s wooden leg.
Then we get to Carro, Isandor’s childhood friend. His father mentally tortured him as a child, a practice the Apprentice Knights are all too happy to continue when he follows his friend into their ranks. With Carro we see the darker side as much as with Tandor, though I can’t say more without spoiling. His situation is complicated, and fair warning, involves on-screen male-male rape. However, there are hints of healthy gay relationships, so the two are not considered equivalent but rather one of power and the other of pleasure.
The complexity of the world comes to play in Loraine role, Isandor’s foster mother and Tandor’s love. She’s a breeder, one of the rare women able to bring a child to term. For this she is offered contracts to continue other family lines in return for her children being ripped from her. Economic imbalance also plays a part with the City of Glass much less prosperous since the overthrow. Most of the remaining wealth is funneled to the higher levels and away from the outer city. Which isn’t even covering the secret society, a black market in loot from the old palace, and many other aspects that make the world multilayered and fascinating.
There are many characters who have a crucial role and the point of view. I haven’t listed them all (some for spoiler reasons), but once I realized Carro’s friend Isandor did not grow up to be Tandor, I had no trouble keeping track. They have different parts to play, different skills, and distinct personalities. The imperfects are born with visible birth defects, meaning a good number of the characters are disabled, including two of the leads.
Bloodline is also critical because imperfects tend to come from the older, Thillei, bloodline while the bloodline that dominates the senior Knights can sense, if not see, icefire. This ability means illusions are harder to hold.
The world is not a bright and happy one. It has its moments, but there are as many if not more where the characters suffer or do something that turns my stomach. There is violence and hate, for sure, and yet there are moments of connection and love even in unexpected characters. It’s a harsh place with rules designed to keep the old bloodlines from returning. The costs are high. You won’t find straightforward characters that fall into place. Instead, the characters are as multi-faceted as the world and make as many bad choices as good. This is the strength of Fire & Ice. You will not find simplicity or easy answers, but there are many deep questions to consider, something I appreciate.
This is the first of a trilogy, and yet several storylines come to a satisfying conclusion. In some cases, that is a “for now” answer with more needing to be resolved and in others one situation resolves but with hints at more to follow. I’m not sure where the next book will take me, but I’m curious to find out.
P.S. I purchased this in the Icefire Trilogy The Complete Series box set for those who want the series written before they start.