Saturday, January 23, 2016

Quick Look: The Ice Dragon

Back in 2007, GRRM's The Ice Dragon was 'released', hoping in some part to sate the ravenous hunger of ASoIaF fans. It was a perfectly calculated release; it had the name, it had dragons, and it had elements of a hard winter. Westeros it wasn't, but it had enough close elements to sell.

It was also, for all intents and purposes, a children's novel. No, scratch that, a children's story; made into a lovely hardcover with illustrations by Yvonne Gilbert.

I passed on it then. I have no problems reading children's lit; and I was intrigued to see how Martin would handle it. But I read some well-reasoned reviews painting it as a sub-par story to boot, and so I passed.

Fast-forward to the present. I saw the more recent edition of The Ice Dragon at my local library. This is the 2014 edition that boasts the beautiful artwork of Luis Royo (more in line with my personal aesthetic leanings, but this perspective is, of course, the decision of the consumer). And so, I reasoned, why not try it now (especially since it is free)? I left it out on the table to see if it piqued the interest of any of my Hach-lings first. My 11 year old daughter wasn't interested. My 10 year old son took a crack at it. He liked the pictures. He liked a lot of the parts of the story. But, what I got from him was that "not much happened" in the end. Fair enough. I figured at that point I might as well take a crack at it.

First of all, bear in mind that even in 2007, The Ice Dragon was not a "new" story. GRRM did not interrupt his busy ASoIaF writing schedule to pen this children's tale. The Ice Dragon was originally an entry in the 1980 Dragons of Light anthology.

The Ice Dragon tells the story of Adara, a "child of winter", in an unnamed kingdom. She was born during a brutal winter, one so harsh that it claimed the life of her mother during the delivery. Adara has always been a cold, solitary child, most comfortable during the bitter winters, the season of her birthday, and the time when she can behold her very special friend - a noble ice dragon.

Ice Dragons are fearsome beings, even in this land where knights soar in the skies on serpentine mounts. But not only has Adara befriended this one, she rides it as well. Theirs is a strong bond; constrained to those wintry months. For as mighty as the ice dragon is, the climes of the warmer seasons would melt its very body away.

However, there is also trouble brewing. The kingdom Adara lives in has been embroiled in a years-long war with a neighboring land. As they find themselves on the losing end of the skirmish, what lies in store for the land Adara knows; her father's land, where her mother is buried, where she meets her special friend every year near her birthday?

For the most part, The Ice Dragon is a well-written little story. The premise is fascinating, as one would expect from GRRM. It stimulates and grabs your imagination. Martin also shows that he can accomplish thorough world-building with brevity, rather than hundreds of pages of soul-crushing exposition (or at least used to be able to). The imagery is magnificent, and the action is grand and exhilirating.

Where The Ice Dragon falls apart, the true devil in the details, is the lack of an "ending". Great premise. Strong buildup. Outstanding climax. And then, loose ends hurriedly tied into a random arrangement. It doesn't make sense, strengthen, or behoove the narrative. The ideal ending didn't have to be sappy, melanchy, or even preachy. It just had to be there. It had to be something that answered the question "Ok, so what was the point of this story anyway?". And, in that regard, the ending is more incongruous than satisfactory.

All in all, give The Ice Dragon a shot. It is a nice little story, and an excellent primer if you have young ones that you expect might segue to the ASoIaF series one day. Just remember, it is not a 100 page epic. It is a 30 page story, lifted from a 36 year old anthology, bolstered by pictures, with text inflated to help it reach the 100 page mark. It feels, I don't know, unnecessarily extended. There's a familiar taste to all of this....

It's still GRRM, though. Vintage Martin, but still the fingerprints are all over the pages. And I cannot laud Luis Royo's artwork enough.

Final Score: 6/10

Art/Illustrations: 9/10

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