The Ice Soldier
Paul Watkins
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Buy *The Ice Soldier* by Paul Watkins

The Ice Soldier

Paul Watkins
Picador
Paperback
352 pages
December 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Ice Soldier.

As The Ice Soldier opens, ex-mountaineer William Bromley is trying to put the ghosts of World War II behind him and quietly forge a career as a schoolteacher in central London. It is 1950 and William is haunted by a wartime expedition that went horribly wrong, resulting in the death of three of his comrades. Now he is considered an outcast of the mountaineering community, his climbing days a thing of the past.

Indelibly drawn to "the stony rafters of the world," mountain climbing has been William's lifelong fascination; it is not just the worlds of rock, snow and ice that have captured him, but also the bleak and unforgettable beauty. Now all he has left are weekly drinking binges at the Montague Hotel where William and his best friend, Stanley Carton, join the Society of Former Mountaineers to reminisce about bygone days.

William stands on the verge of oblivion, clinging to symbols of those old days when he took life for granted, certain that he would climb again. When Stanley's uncle, the feisty and famous Henry Carton, commits suicide, he makes a posthumous request, instructing his lawyer to tell William and Stanley they must climb and return his body to that fateful alpine peak named in his honor.

Even in death, the Alps for Henry Carton remains the ultimate proving ground. He is convinced that only by climbing the mountains again can William and Stanley find any hope of redemption and assuage their formidable guilt. Placing his body high atop Carton's Rock - the view from the top of one of the greatest wonders of the natural world is perhaps the only way these two men can free themselves from the constrictions of the past. Henry is convinced that on the mountains "all that one could be and where all that one was, becomes clear."

William and Stanley face many obstacles as they retrace their steps up through the rocky peaks, the desolate valleys and the snow-covered glaciers. Their journey is truly extraordinary, fraught with tension and far removed from the structure of their comfortable life in London. Both are upstanding and essentially British chaps who value loyalty and integrity, and both are of the belief that atop mountains no climber can ever afford to be sheltered by his wealth, his social connections, or by his clever turns of phrase. On the mountains, "you learned who you were, for better or for worse."

In precise and accessible prose, author Paul Watkins taps into the mechanics of mountain climbing, yet he never gets bogged down in excessive detail. There is clarity of thought that comes from climbing, from being in a world not clogged by a grid-work of roads and playing fields; where life is infinitely simplified, and where there is nothing to rely on but yourself and those with whom you climb.

The Ice Soldier is a stirring adventure tale of heroism, comradeship and love high upon the windswept summit of the Italian Alps. The war and the changes it has bought to William's life remove any plans for the future, even the future itself. Now the past and the future spin endlessly like the streams of time itself. Only by returning to the sacred mountaineers' ground of Carton's Peak can William and Stanley come to terms with their newfound fears of climbing and perhaps take back their lives.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2006

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