Hyper-selfish rich brat Patrick once fell in love with the beautiful Angela; when she did not return his love he killed her in frustration. Patrick's father helped cover up the murder, then introduced the lad to a sinister Turkish necromancer who taught him the trick of using "Magik" (sic) to travel among many alternate realities, in each of which Patrick discovers different versions of his lusted-after Angela. Alas, all of the Angelas, young or old, spurn him as the heartless swine he is, and so he murders and posthumously rapes them each in turn before moving on to the next world, where he hopes he'll find the Angela who will love him -- or, to be more objective, who will subjugate her will to him and pander to his every whim.
Patrick really is not a nice guy.
In those other alternate worlds he romps through, though, he discovers as well different versions of himself, and most of those Patricks do not share his psychopathic failings. They, too, are in love with the appropriate Angela; some are wooing her successfully, others are worshippers from afar, yet still act out of love rather than greed for her. In order to keep his "Magik" at full throttle, Patrick needs to bathe periodically in "the blood of his blood"; his alternate selves are the ideal suppliers of this. He therefore enslaves all the alternate Patricks, to be his craven servants and/or to be bled dry at an appropriate moment.
In the particular alternate world where this novel is largely set, Angela is recovering from the death, a couple of years ago, of her husband and her infant son. She is admired by, and admires, the socially inept Christopher, who is this world's version of Patrick.
Never before has the central, reality-hopping Patrick come across an Angela or a version of himself powered by such steely resolve as these two. It's hardly a spoiler to say that, by book's end, his murderous career is stopped by them.
The central premise of Heart of Ice, Blood of Fire is a very interesting one; unfortunately the execution doesn't live up to it.
At the mundane level, the publishers, Crazy Wolf, might have afforded Mr Staab a copy-editor and a proofreader. Grammatical and spelling errors abound; throughout we have "reign" instead of "rein", "masque" instead of "mask", "pouring" instead of "poring", and countless other examples. At a more significant level, Crazy Wolf should have given him an editor. Here and there there's a shining instance that demonstrates what a fundamentally good writer Staab could be were his prose not dogged by the sort of stuff any competent editor, copy-editor or proofreader should have picked up:
There's some nice work here, and it is this sort of imagery that keeps one ploughing on through Heart of Ice, Blood of Fire. But it's often a pretty difficult plough. Each freshly introduced character arrives with a physical description and psychological analysis that goes on for page after page; dull stuff. All the central characters have inner voices with which they endlessly discuss their inmost motivations; the contributions to these dialogues of the alter egos are typographically distinguished, but unfortunately not consistently so (where, again, was the copy-editor?), with the result that it is often hard to work out who's saying what. As a result of all these flaws and more, characterization suffers grievously, so that it becomes pretty difficult to care what happens to the goodies -- to Angela and Christopher.
That said, there is easily enough in this novel to tell us that Mr Staab is an author to look out for in the future. He clearly has interesting ideas -- not at all as common a trait as one could wish for among horror novelists -- and every now and then, as noted, he comes up with a scintillatingly bright piece of observation. But at the end of the day the best one can say of Heart of Ice, Blood of Fire is that it shows a promise as yet unrealized.
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© John Grant 11 May 2002