Frank Pickering’s ICE hopes to chill your spine with a tale of tragedy on a mountain leading into a series of haunting encounters with a weird mountain guardian and the odd bit of snowy suspense.
Mountain and arctic environments are rich territories for horror. There’s a threat built in right there, the same as setting your story in space, or in the ocean. Vast, threatening, sometimes unknowable spaces. Places where the everyday person may not go, with risks all around. You can seed fear in reader’s minds just by using an isolated setting, and from that, you can layer on all kinds of thrills.
But you have to have characters you care about. ICE doesn’t present you with any. Killing off a few cringeworthy teenage characters early on barely has any impact. The tragic hero who returns to the mountains an indeterminate amount of time after his partner is killed just gets on with things, so his link to previous events feels pointless. There’s more love here for skiing than the cheeky authorial glee of leading you into a place of terror. It feels less like a journey of fear and more like a description of events, flatly journalistic at times, and never creepy.
That’s a shame, because there’s definitely a love of language in this book, but the sometimes poetic descriptions distract from the mood they’re trying to create. Right from the first line, where personification of a valley doesn’t quite work, reading this novel felt like an uphill struggle towards tension which never pulls taut enough.
There’s no real climax either, no escalation of the threat laying in wait under the mountain. It’s kind of like visiting a museum to see a specific exhibit, finding it replaced with a sign reading this item will be returning soon, shrugging your shoulders and then going home. You may get a faint glimmer of interest, but it’s not going to be handed to you.
There are books out there which handle the combination of icy conditions and creeping dread far better – Thin Air by Michelle Paver, and Ararat by Christopher Golden spring to mind. If you’re looking for chilly thrills, look there, not here.