Audiobook Review: The Ice Lion by Kathleen O’Neal Gear
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction,
Series: Book 1 of Rewilding Reports
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (June 15, 2021)
Length: 9 hrs and 35 mins
Author Information: Website
Narrators: Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Sisi Aisha Johnson
The term cli-fi has been used to describe any fictional work that deals with climate change and global warming, and although these stories don’t necessarily have to be speculative in nature or take place in a dystopian future, both of these apply to The Ice Lion. The book opens thousands of years from now, as Earth finds itself frozen in an Ice Age. Much of civilization’s history has not survived, though according to legend, powerful godlike beings in the past called the Jemen tried to the very last to preserve life on the planet even when it became clear that Earth was lost. To do this, they took what they knew about the last ice age and recreated humans and creatures to be able to withstand this harsh ecosystem.
Now, a young man named Lynx and the members of his clan the Sealion tribe are proof that their ancient gods’ desperate gambit might have paid off, as survivors like them eke out a brutal existence in this frigid landscape. As the story begins, Lynx is accused of being a coward following the massacre of his entire wedding party, in which his wife was included among the slain. Banished to the wilderness, he must now take on a series of trials in a spirit quest to become a shaman or face certain death. Refusing to let Lynx face this challenge alone, his friend Quiller decides to join him on his journey, using her warrior skills to help him reach a new land. Along the way, they meet a mysterious old man whom Lynx believes could be one of the Jemen, as impossible as that may be. Arakie, as the stranger is called, seems to know a lot about the world and its past, including a possible way to save it, a revelation that changes Lynx’s life forever.
I confess, I came to The Ice Lion expecting a lot more. This isn’t my first Kathleen O’Neal Gear novel; last year I read Cries from the Lost Island and had a great time. Now I realize this book is not the same at all, nor did I expect it to be. However, Cries from the Lost Island had great characters, an enormous amount of intrigue, fascinating archaeological and historical insights, and pretty much endless adventure and entertainment. Compared to all of that, The Ice Lion felt like all concept and no substance. The premise was just about the only element that was interesting and somewhat well developed.
Even then, I felt the world-building could have been more. To the author’s credit, the setting was very detailed, rendered as well as a frozen and forbidding environment could be. The world was richly described and completely believable. You can practically feel the frigid cold seeping into every aspect. I also liked the allusion to prehistoric cultures. Survival is difficult and precarious for the clans, but the peoples’ lives are no less filled with meaning and values. That said though, the sci-fi and dystopic elements can be quite confounding, as I feel they are relatively weaker and less developed, resulting in noise that takes away from the overall effect.
Ultimately though, I’m probably most disappointed by the characters. Granted, given their origins, our protagonists must have been a challenge to write convincingly. They are of a new line of humans created with their Stone Age ancestors as a blueprint, living in a distant future bestrewn with the remnants of strange and advanced technology in a world that nonetheless needs to feel prehistoric. I mean, I can’t really say I know what that would sound like, but what I do know is that the writing in The Ice Lion did not do it for me at all. The prose was stilted and hard to get used to, leading to characters I had zero connection with. What kills me is that I know the author is fully capable of writing lively characters with an engaging voice and dialogue from my experience with Cries from the Lost Island, but in contrast here, they are so stiff and dull.
All told, I really struggled with The Ice Lion, and to be honest, it probably would have been even more difficult had I not listened to the audiobook. At just under ten hours, it went by pretty quickly, and one thing I do like about Kathleen O’Neal Gear’s storytelling is that it is laser sharp and focused with no time for tangents or extraneous content. The audiobook narrators helped too, with Shaun Taylor-Corbett and Sisi Aisha Johnson delivering solid performances. If they happened to sound a little awkward and unnatural in a few places, I think it was due to the writing, but in spite of that they did a great job overall.