Series: The Gates of the World #2
Publisher: Solaris (December 27, 2016)
Length: 400 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
Epic fantasy has become a hit-or-miss situation for me. The stories and themes which mesmerized me a decade ago, not really working anymore. Sure, there have been a few novels which lived up to their hype, but many more quickly lost my interest and faded into my growing D-N-F pile, patiently waiting to start a new life upon the shelves of the local used bookstore. So when I read The Iron Ship back in 2015, I had high hopes, as well as a lot of real trepidation, as to whether this ambitious epic fantasy would capture my imagination, but it did – missteps and all. The City of Ice immediately becoming one of my most anticipated novels of 2016, because I had a feeling K. M. McKinley was going to pull everything together in this second installment, and I was right: this book is a great one.
Following in the age old tradition of sprawling epics with multiple point of view characters, The City of Ice mainly focuses on the Kressinds (though there are other characters I’ll mention later). These very different siblings scattered across the world, dealing with unique problems all their own, but also unwittingly embroiled in a global threat to their entire way of life!
Our lead Kressind this time around is Trassan, who invented and now stands upon the prow of the mighty Iron Ship, which uses magic to break through the icy southern seas in route to a forgotten city of ice, where the vast knowledge of ancient times lies undiscovered. Left back at home, Trassan’s sister, Katriona, is waging a fighting for fair labor rights for the mistreated workers of her country, while a continent away Rel Kressind flees from certain death near the mysterious Glass Fort. Meanwhile, Aarin Kressind has braved his fears to travel to the Final Isle, waiting to visit an ominous oracle regarding the souls of the dead. And, lastly, Garten Kressind finds himself neck deep in political machinations, as he attends the election of a High Legate in ancient Maceriya.
If this is not enough story for everyone, K.M. McKinley also has several minor plot lines going on at the same time. From the Fifty Shades of Grey-like tale of Madelyne and The Infernal Duke of Maceriya to the brief appearances of Adamanka Sharane, last of the Iron Mages, sole devotee of the Iron Church, messiah to a forgotten people, and the herald to the ancient gods, to Vols Iapetus, ancestor of the Driver of the Gods, to Josan and Josanad of the Morfaan, the author keeps the names, places, and excitement coming in an endless wave of epic fantasy fun.
Certainly, all that sounds ominous and overwhelming when I describe it that way. However, I want to assure everyone that each one of these plots is very organically woven into the ongoing narrative. Every character given the utmost opportunity to strut their stuff, develop their part in the tale before passing the torch to the next in line, who then rinse and repeat the process. All of this keeping the narrative fresh, both entertaining and informative, as key information regarding the ongoing mystery is revealed, driving The City of Ice to its explosive conclusion rather than weighing it down.
So it goes without saying that I really enjoyed the novel. Loved the multiple point of view characters. Thought the pacing was excellent for a book with so many divergent story lines going on. And found the world building even more amazing than book one (which is a great compliment, since I thought that was the greatest element in The Iron Ship).
But was there anything I didn’t like about it, you ask? Of course.
First off, I thought a few of the characters did not get as much page time as they deserved, specifically Katriona, Rel, and Aaarin Kressind. These guys were some of the most important players in book one, yet here they took a backseat to their siblings. While I understood why and thought the author still found a way to incorporate them into the story, I just wished they had played a larger role in this part of the tale.
Second, the Madelyne-Infernal Duke story line seemed a bit out of place. Nothing wrong with the Fifty Shades of Grey relationship these two had with one another, but it just did not seem to add very much to the ongoing story line. Perhaps I will be proven wrong by the author on that point, but right now, these two felt like filler material.
Overall, The City of Ice exceeded its predecessor in almost every way. It was near perfection to me. The diverse cast, unique settings, and mysterious, overarching plot persuading me every night to put off sleep just a couple more hours to remain in pursuit of the answers I desperately craved from the narrative. K.M. McKinley skillfully keeping all the revelations just out of my reach, frustrating me yet enthralling me with this masterful epic fantasy, which has renewed my love of the sprawling epic with a huge cast of characters.
I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.