The Age of Ice
Prince Alexander M. Velitzyn and his twin brother were conceived of a mocking prince upon a humpbacked court jester locked overnight in the folly palace built of ice by Empress Anna, niece to Peter the Great, in St. Petersburg in 1740. A difficult youth teaches our hero that this beginning has left him able to freeze water to ice when emotion grabs him, as in sex. He gives his first lover pneumonia. His twin and descendants seem to be the only people who can endure his touch.
Alexander also seems incapable of dying, which makes him the embodiment of the Little Ice Age, cold personified. He certainly puts in an appearance anytime during this era when the cold plays an important part in history: the Enlightenment’s discovery of thermometers and experiments with cold, Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, the Russian search for the North[east] Passage and exploration/conquest of Siberia, the 19th-century ice trade. Sometimes the historical overwhelms the novelistic and we lose sight of the personal story. Then things drag. Most of the time, however, the language –remarkable in an author for whom English is not her first language – is hypnotic and evocative. I loved the flights of fancy based on native Siberian vocabulary. Too genre-bending, perhaps, for some readers, but important thoughts for those in our age who worry about polar bears drowning because they no longer have ice floes on which to land.