Published by Bloomsbury, 2017.
I loved Prisoner of Ice and Snow and read it in record time. It’s a real page-turner. The excitement and tension begin in the first chapter and don’t let up until the end. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff.
Valor and Sasha are thirteen-year-old twins. At the start of the story, Sasha has been in prison for a month. She is accused of having stolen a priceless and politically symbolic music box from the royal family. She is being held in Tyur’ma, the kingdom of Demidova’s notoriously bleak prison of ice and stone. Valor is determined to rescue her sister. She fakes an assassination attempt on the Crown Prince and gets herself arrested and sentenced to life at Tyur’ma. Her plan: to break her sister out from the inside.
What follows is a story of bravery and determination. The themes of sisterhood, family, loyalty and friendship are positive, powerful and life-affirming. For me, the most beautiful and moving line in the book is one spoken by Valor. The Prince observes how Valor has given up her whole life to be with her sister and she replies,
“We’re sisters. Twins. I don’t have a whole life without her.”
I was completely drawn into Valor’s world. I love how Ruth Lauren has evoked a really strong sense of place. She has vividly created a remote and desolate icy world. The frozen wastelands bring to mind the Siberian plains. Indeed, there is a strong Russian feel running throughout the book, from place names and character names to the imperial palace with its onion domes. The most fully realised aspect of the book is the brutal prison regime, presided over by Warden Kirov and the terrifying Peacekeepers (prison guards). The prison and the horror of the daily life of its child inmates is shockingly harsh. Many of the scenes make for uncomfortable reading. Ruth Lauren has also crafted a cast of well-drawn, believable characters. I think it’s really important to be able to empathise with a book’s protagonists and I cared deeply about Valor and Sasha’s plight. I was willing them to succeed.
Books with strong female characters always draw me in and Prisoner of Ice and Snow has them in spades. Women are portrayed in positions of power and strength. The kingdom of Demidova is ruled by Queen Ana and it is her daughter, Anastasia, and not her son who is set to inherit the throne. The prison is run by a woman and there are female guards alongside the men. Valor and her mother are exceptional hunters, skilled with bow and arrow. Sasha is thoughtful and intelligent. She has a way with words and a sharp mind, able to grapple with political intrigue and power play. Different female characters exhibit a full range of human qualities and traits: we see strength, bravery, wisdom, honour, perseverance and loyalty, but also scheming, manipulation, brutality, selfishness, and a ruthless hunger for power. There are no meek damsels here. These women can stand up for themselves and fight their own battles. Literally.
With its fearless, fiesty female lead, Prisoner of Ice and Snow sits confidently alongside other recent favourites of mine, such as Girl of Ink and Stars and Rooftoppers. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a nail-biting, fast-paced adventure. The twists keep on coming right to the very end. Much is resolved in the last few chapters but there is one final cliffhanger that left me desperate to know if there would be a sequel. We’re in luck. Seeker of the Crown is out in 2018.
Suitable for children aged 8+
Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review. I reviewed this book as part of the Prisoner of Ice and Snow blog tour (click on the link to read a special guest blog from author Ruth Lauren where she discusses her recent favourite MG books).