Review: Ice Song by Kirsten Imani Kasai
Ice Song is Kirsten Imani Kasai’s first novel. I had the pleasure to hear Kirsten read a snippet at her Mysterious Galaxy Book Signing. On the surface Ice Song is about a mother in search of her kidnapped infant twins and that story definitely defines the arc of the novel. On a deeper level we have a harshly realistic description of fearing the other. On a third level we have a family drama–A wealthy family that manages to meddle in the affairs of almost every other character in the story. The 2nd and 3rd levels are what really stick with me after reading the book.
Sorykah is the mother that’s lost her children. She provides the lens through which most of the world is revealed, even though we switch to numerous other character’s points of view. She’s working class, doing dangerous work that supplies a luxury to the rich. She’s a highly educated woman that is shunted away from the work she should be doing, because she’s a woman. She’s also a genetic anomaly. There are many genetic anomalies in this world, referred to as somatics, mostly presenting themselves as part animal part human. Sorykah, though, is a “Trader,” in that she can change her gender. This happens to be pretty much the only type of somatic that is acknowledged, if not fully accepted, by society. Hiding who she is, we see that she has just as much distaste for other somatics as those she hides her nature from.
Kirsten has created a complex character in Sorykah, but she basically gets moved through the story as a pawn. The adventures she has, the people she encounters, the stories she hears, the horrors she witnesses and the world she traverses are all intense and described in lyrical prose. The world that gets built up around her is an ambiguous 20th century. Money, power and madness fuel the machinations that Sorykah makes her way through, intent upon rescuing her children. Layers of the world are torn away and the simple monsters (both real and abstract) become more complex. We see the world come into focus as each viewpoint character adds their particular unreliable narration. The story climaxes abruptly but satisfyingly.
For a first novel, I’m impressed with Ice Song. A rich world has been created. In the end, I was quite impressed by how it grew in my mind in the wake of Sorykah’s quest. Heavy and dark, this is unquestionably a good novel, but not one that everyone will find easy to get through.