C.J. Cherryh – Fortress Of Ice

Although the title may hint otherwise Fortress Of Ice (2006) by C.J. Cherryh is a separate sequel to her high fantasy Fortress Quartet. It is a continuation with some differences. Foremost is a time gap and the fact that the central plot of the Fortress Quartet had a conclusion. A conclusion is not the same as an end and I describe it such because not everything was resolved. Personally I think it’s more believable if not every little thing gets a solution as nothing is ever really finished.

Now to the book itself. An important difference is that the story revolves around a new young character. Much is narrated from his viewpoint. Occasionally Cherryh switches to some other characters and this is rather welcome to me. A minor flaw in the books of the quartet was that Cherryh spent too much time on her characters brooding or being involved in long drawn out discussions. Normally such things stay on a limited scale so that I’m not much bothered by it. One could call it characterization and fleshing out the characters, but a good writer doesn’t need that many words or repeat things to emphasize them. This is what goes wrong in the first half of Fortress Of Ice. Cherryh spends way too much time on the so-called characterization. For example a whole chapter is spent on the main character brooding and being uncertain. Nothing happens and there is no dialogue either. There is no need to use that many words after the intention of the author is already clear. Once could address the extensive scenes to slowly building up the tension and the story. To me it was too slow.

It is only past the first half of the book that events start shaping up although it does so on the background. It’s the main thing that I considered good and impressive about Fortress Of Ice. There is a shadow that slowly grows into darkness, a terror that rises in the background with the reader hardly noticing and getting a grip on it. Once could compare it to a crescendo. A very slow one, but the effect is the same. The final part almost bursts and is very gripping. If only it hadn’t been that short and that more of the book had that feeling.

For such a long book (over 500 pages) the story itself is rather simple. Cherryh does add a feeling of complexity and plenty of subtleties. Unfortunately she does not exploit it to the fullest. In my opinion the book is way too long and some 200 pages could easily have been shed while keeping the same effect and a far stronger prose.

The new main character is not that great. At first he resembles the main character of the quartet a lot. There are differences which is mainly that he behaves more normally and spends too much time doubting himself. Why there is so much uncertainty is unclear. The subtle dark background influences mentioned before could have played a role, although this is never made clear.

Much remains unclear at the end of the novel. A battle has been won. There are still matters unresolved and this can only mean there will be another sequel. For now the main problem of this book is that there is too little mystery. Cherryh spend much time at slowly disclosing the mysteries over the course of four books. Some still remained and the question is on how much time she plans on resolving those. Fortress Of Ice clearly lacked sufficient story for its length and Cherryh will has to put on some considerable effort there and not spend too much time rehashing feelings and dialogues. This is still an engaging book with the strengths and the weaknesses mentioned above. If one does want to reader to be taken in one should not build up the story so slowly. As I’m a staunch reader I can manage quite a bit, but many others won’t.

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