Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.
Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?
I'd like to start off this review by saying that ICEFALL is very, very different from THE CLOCKWORK THREE. They're both MG with crossover appeal into YA, but the similarities end there; whereas THE CLOCKWORK THREE takes place in a fictional city reminiscent of NYC in the 1800s, with elements of steampunk and fantasy, ICEFALL centers on a Norse/Viking-era princess trapped in a small fort during a long and grueling winter.
I'd say the thing I loved most about this book was Kirby's prose. It's gorgeous and lyrical without overwhelming the story, and I found myself rereading certain passages enviously (I mean it, people, this guy can write). His characters are well-drawn, and as a reader I became fully immersed in the world he created, from the rich Norse myths of gods and trolls to the personification of the glacier as a lurking, groaning beast. As someone who writes historical fantasy I really appreciate when authors do their research, and in this sense ICEFALL is nothing short of perfection. Kirby obviously learned a great deal about historical Norsemen before writing this book. While the historical facts and tidbits are accurate, he manages to insert them into the story without it seeming like a history lesson, which is of the utmost importance when writing for children.
ICEFALL is a very unique story; I've never read anything remotely like it, especially not in the MG genre. Although the book's pacing relies (for the most part) upon subtle intrigue and tension rather than full-on action, it never gets boring, and the building suspense around a possible traitor within the fort will keep younger readers hooked. Rich details and Norse myths bring the setting to life, and it hits a surprising number of emotional chords (the goat Hilda in particular...when you read the book you'll know what I mean). The only parts that bothered me were the young characters' ages (Solveig and her siblings)...although you get a vague sense of how old they are based on their interactions, I really wanted to know their exact ages so I could better picture them. Other than that, I found ICEFALL to be a wonderful and refreshing read.
Matthew Kirby's done it again. There are many authors who can write well in a single genre, but who struggle to produce work outside that limited sphere. Few can slide between genres with such ease while still maintaining high quality work. As someone who loves books in all genres, I truly can't wait to see what Kirby comes up with next!