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Book 142: Blood and Ice by Robert Masello


UK Cover
Book 142: Blood and Ice.
Author: Robert Masello, 2008.
Genre: Thriller. SF/Horror.
Other Details: Hardback. 512 pages.

In the 1856 prologue, Lt. Sinclair Copley, a survivor of the charge of the Light Brigade, and Eleanor Ames, one of Miss Nightingale's nurses, are passengers on a ship in the Southern Ocean. When the Captain finds something nasty in the bottles of 'wine' that the couple have brought with them he orders them chained together and thrown overboard. A little extreme you might think especially since in 1856 Bram Stoker was still in short pants. Still it is a pretty dramatic opening.

The focus then moves to the present day where Seattle-based photojournalist Michael Wilde takes an assignment at Point Adélie in Antarctica among an assortment of macho types, who run the place, and the eccentric scientists, who are there conducting research into local wildlife, climate change and botany. While on a dive, Michael discovers Eleanor and Copley preserved in the glacial ice. The station sends down more divers with saws and then they bring the block of ice to the surface where they arrange to slowly thaw them out. What happens next is fairly predictable.


US Cover
Naturally these folk have never seen either versions of The Thing or they'd leave them right where they were! Maybe it was scientific curiosity and Masello does take the SF route, as Richard Matheson did in I Am Legend, to explain the origins of his vampires rather than a supernatural one.

I enjoyed the book though it does have its flaws. While only a few folk at the research station are privy to the knowledge that the couple once unfrozen are alive no one seems to blink an eye at the impossibility of their survival. Also, while it is clear that Masello has done a lot of research into the period, the flashbacks to the 19th century, which follows the couple's courtship and later ordeals during the Crimean War, felt clumsy especially in terms of their interaction. I never felt convinced that they were in love. Lt.Copley just came off like an upper class blighter rather than a romantic hero. Still Michael and Eleanor did emerge as quite well rounded characters as was Darryl, the very geeky scientist who rooms with Michael at Point Adélie, and Charlotte, the African-American site doctor.

He skilfully evokes the stark beauty of the Antarctic setting and the claustrophobic life of the workers and scientists at the research station. There are also some quite stunning images such as when Michael first sees the face of the woman they dub 'Sleeping Beauty' within the ice wall that I am sure will stay with me. He also uses Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner to good effect, illustrating that poetry, art and literature is one way to bridge the gap between centuries. I am not sure it was quite the right book to be reading during the worst winter England has seen since the early 60s though. I needed extra hot chocolate.

So flawed but still interesting. On a side note I usually prefer the UK covers, but this one gives the impression that the novel is a fairly standard thriller. The US cover art is much creepier with the overshadowing presence of the frozen 'Sleeping Beauty' and the tiny figure of Wilde.
Tags: historical fiction, horror, sci-fi, vampires, war, weather
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