Petrel never tired of watching ice caves. Some of them were so blue and so beautiful that they made her heart ache....That’s when she saw him. A boy, laid out on the ice like a dead fish, with a scattering of snow almost covering his face. A boy, where there should have been nothing but the memory of winter. A frozen boy.
Not since I read Obernewtyn trapped in a tent in rainy Yamba in 1988, have I been so entranced by a fantasy novel. From the very first page of Ice Breaker, Book One in the Hidden Series, Lian Tanner transports us utterly to a crystalline, arctic environment. We shiver as we read and reach for warming things; including the warm touch of kind and friendly people. Twelve year old Petrel, the outcast, is a sterling hero with a strong moral compass. She is indefatigable in the face of an exhausting sequence of pressing dangers aboard the Oyster, an ancient icebreaker that has been wandering the seas for three hundred years, remaining loyal to her few friends and insightful about her many enemies.
When the boy is rescued from a passing iceberg, the long held secrets of the Oyster begin to reveal themselves. The boy, christened Fin by Petrel, has to make choices – will he fulfil the deadly mission assigned to him by the Devouts, or will he join his new friends and the now-awake Sleeping Captain and embark on a quest that could save the world?
The Big Questions – What does it mean to be human? Do we dare to care for and connect with others? What will the price of betrayal be? What is true and worth fighting for? – provide philosophical depth to a startlingly intelligent novel. But, these layers of politics and philosophy are skilfully interwoven with rich, complex characterisation and a dramatic plot that drives forward with relentless momentum. The crisp, spare, yet poetic prose quite takes our breath away.
Ice Breaker echoes themes of dystopian fiction with its anti-technocratic stance, warring factions, petty enmities and ruthless egocentricity; a canvas against which desperate events are projected as the protagonists struggle for survival.
The child’s face was beaten silver. His mind held the knowledge of ten thousand libraries....So far, every moment of his short life had been spent hiding from the Anti-Machinists.
The age old issues the novel raises are particularly pertinent in a contemporary Australia where compassion seems thin on the ground, philistinism, xenophobia and self-interested scepticism rule the day, and a sense of human decency and care for the planet are at serious risk.
This is a novel I would love to explore with capable readers from 11 -14; a novel I would love to push gently into willing hands. It is a novel perfectly suited to the Australian Curriculum: English, which itself is currently in jeopardy of being dumbed down by reductionist forces.
These views remain those of the blog contributor & do not necessarily reflect those of CBCA.