Alice Hoffman's latest novel is about death, the nature of dying and the random power of wishes to affect the fate of others. The protagonist is a girl of eight when she makes her first fateful wish, resenting her mother's plans for the evening. When her mother dies in an accident, the girl (who remains nameless throughout) believes she caused the death and, in penance, turns herself into ice, an effort to avoid the pain of being human.
Later, the woman’s brother, Ned, moves his sister to Florida from New Jersey, where the now thirty-something woman remains as isolated as an ice princess in a fairy tale. Resentfully, she blurts another wish, to be struck by lightning. Voila! Her wish is granted. As a survivor of a lightning strike, the woman has great difficulty returning to a normal life and agrees to participate in a scientific study where she meets others like her. But this lady has already drawn a line in the sand, adamant that she has the ability to wish away life or bring on lightning at will.
Through her meetings with other survivors, the woman, like a turtle, gradually pokes her head out to notice the others who inhabit the world, even in this bizarre situation. Piqued by curiosity about a man who was pronounced dead for forty minutes before returning to life, she impulsively drives to meet Lazarus Jones, believing he may have the answers she seeks. They are opposites, he fire and she ice. They only come together in the dark, igniting each other, a combustible romance that cannot last.
The woman's long, slow awakening is the theme of the novel, her quest to understand death and free herself from the restraints that have turned her life into a hollow shell: "The way to trick death. Breathe in. Breathe out." Unfortunately, there is no spark to ignite this tepid plot, although there is the occasional flash of brilliant language associated with this author's work.
The problem lies not in the fable of the girl who turns herself to ice but in the lack of development of these shallow characters. The woman is consistently one-dimensional, trapped in childish egocentricity. Why would anyone go to the trouble to wake up this sleeping, self-obsessed beauty? Even the fire-and-ice love affair is disappointing. The lover's so-called instant combustion produces mere puffs of smoke.
Hoffman is a writer of exquisite sensibilities, with a number of lyrical novels and a devoted following. The Ice Queen is an exception to the rule; Hoffman has a long list of powerful work to reward her readers.