Sunday, 28 April 2013

Review: Blood & Ice by Robert Masello

4 / 5 STARS
In this haunting and suspenseful thriller, Robert Masello delivers an adventure that spans continents and centuries—a spellbinding story that ranges from Victorian England to a remote antarctic research station, where an ancient glacier yields a shocking prize it has held captive for nearly two hundred years….
Journalist Michael Wilde—his world recently shattered by tragedy—hopes that a monthlong assignment to the South Pole will give him a new lease on life. Here, in the most inhospitable place on earth, he is simply looking to find solace . . . until, on a routine dive in to the polar sea, he unexpectedly finds something else entirely: a young man and woman, bound with chains and sealed forever in a block of ice. Beside them a chest filled with a strange, and sinister, cargo.

Now, in a bleak but breathtaking world of shimmering icebergs, deep blue crevasses, and never-ending sun, Wilde must unravel the mystery of this doomed couple. Were they the innocent victims of fear and superstition—or were they something far darker? His search will lead from the barracks and battlefields of the Crimean War to the unexplored depths of the Antarctic Ocean, from the ill-fated charge of the Light Brigade to an age-old curse that survives to this day.

As the ice around the murdered lovers begins to melt, Wilde will have to grapple with a miracle—or a nightmare—in the making. For what is dead, it turns out, may not be gone. And here, at the very end of the known world, there’s nowhere to hide and no place left for the living to run.
I first read Blood & Ice last year in more-or-less one sitting, and recently re-read it. And I have to say that I enjoyed it about as much as the first time. It's one of those stories that seems to have either a beginning that's way too long or an ending that's way too rushed, given the overall length of the book itself. This is a fairly sizeable novel - I'm quite a fast reader but it still took me a while to finish. It's got its share of plot holes and loose threads as well. However, saying that, it's also one of those stories that, despite its shortcomings, you can still enjoy it. If you're interested in the angles it takes.

What drew me initially to pick up this book is the beautiful cover image, but when I turned it over to look at the blurb, I realised that the things it was about were all right up my street. There was the Victorian era and Crimean War, polar environments, marine biology, plus a couple of vampires. That's what I mean about being interested in the angles - the subjects of this book, which I just mentioned, are things I love reading about, be it fiction or non-fiction. A couple of the more science-based points are things which I even studied for my BSc and MSc degrees, so I could really get stuck in with the level of descriptive detail the book reaches. You get a very vivid idea of how scuba divers manage to work underneath the polar ice cap; the grandeur and excitement of a day at a 19th century horse race. However, to someone not as interested in these subjects, I can admit they may seem a little overwhelming.

If this book is picked up purely for the vampire aspect, I can predict disappointment, because so much of the story relies on other things. To me, having read many vampire stories, it was like a breath of fresh air to find something that wasn't ripping off either pure horror or pure romance. I wouldn't say it was a perfect balance of the two, but there were certainly an acceptable amount of both. The vampires don't really make a proper appearance as undead blood-drinkers until you've gotten through a few hundred pages, and even then it doesn't turn into a full-blown scenario. In some places, it almost felt like the idea of vampires was there for convenience and to add an interesting paranormal dash, into what is essentially a half historical-fiction and half science-based story. The background to the vampire 'source' is very sketchy and not really explained, which I found disappointing. But even though these first vampires are only in the book for an incredibly short time, what little I read of them I found somewhat intriguing, because of the way they're presented as scavenging animals rather than the suave coolness which seems to be the modern stereotype.

What I did really enjoy though was the way the two parts of the story run alongside each other for the first half of the book, until the time when they both clash. One moment we're in present day Antarctica with a group of marine scientists; the next we're in Victorian London or Crimea. It's done, for the most part, over a couple of chapters per timeline, so it doesn't get too dizzying jumping from one to the other. Each narrative gives enough time to get to know its characters, and although some are a little two-dimensional, others are fleshed out well. One of the defining features of Blood & Ice that I remember is the very interesting and complicated relationship between our Victorian couple, Sinclair and Eleanor. Their introdiction in the prologue is mesmerising, and watching the two of them meet and change throughout the book really stuck with me. If you strip away all the sometimes-stifling detail and ignore the slow parts, the way Sinclair and Eleanor work is the centre of the story for me.

So, to sum up, Blood & Ice isn't the best vampire/science/historical book I've read, but it's far from being the worst, either. I'd read it again, just not for a while, because all the dust and loose threads need to settle.

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