Hambly, Barbara. 1998. Icefalcon's Quest. New York: Del Rey.
Reviewed 24 March 1998
What a contrast from the last book reviewed here (see M'Caffrey)! Ms. Hambly's latest effort is actually a real novel. It's not going to earn a WFA nomination, but it is certainly worth reading . . . and, at under 300 pages, it doesn't ramble on.
Icefalcon's Quest is ultimately about self-discovery. The Icefalcon makes an error that endangers both Tir and the Keep, and spends the remainder of the novel attempting to atone for the error. We get the chance to see a lot more of the White Raider culture in this book than in previous books in the Ingold Inglorion cycle. The White Raider culture is an integral part of that world, and it fits within its conception. Too many fantasy series tend to add other cultures for the sake of addition later, without building them into the entire world.
Equally important, Hambly does not make the mistake of retelling the previous books in this cycle with awkward prequels, characters telling each other things they already know, or other expository lumps. Instead, we get a stream of occasional, entirely natural references to previous events. Here's an example:
Remembered, too, the name of the Alketch general with a silver hook where his right hand should have been. He had betrayed the armies of daylight when they went against the Dark Ones in their Nests, pulled his men out of the fighting so that he could have his own army strong, left the men of the Keep to be killed. There were a lot of orphans in the Keep whose fathers and mothers had died there in the holocaust of fire and shadow.
This is how a semipanicked seven-year-old remembers--not a sudden "that's Vair, the dirty bastard," but an impression of how he was a dirty bastard. It allows the reader to draw a conclusion in the same way as the character did.
The plot also holds up reasonably well, although the result and means of the ultimate ending become rather obvious with about 100 pages to go. That problem aside, the plot develops logically, and the characters' ignorance that leads to some of the side plots, subplots, and plot complications is consistent with what we know of those characters.
Unfortunately, the postclimax resolution is very weak and not entirely consistent with what has gone before. (I've noticed this problem in several of Ms. Hambly's other books.) Although by now the "objective" conclusion concerning Icefalcon's character has been fairly obvious through three books in which he has been a significant player, the minisermon with which his shaman sister solemnly informs the Icefalcon that he's not a leader is cliched and overdone. This scene would have worked much better as another one of the stories the White Raiders tell each other, if it needed any exegesis. If the Icefalcon must hear this from someone else, he's probably not ready to accept it as readily as he does--particularly since it rather cheaply unwinds a major subplot.
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