The poet Robert Frost wrote that “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.” The Ice Shadows of Arna grapples with both possibilities, and throws in a plague as a third candidate for devastation.
In fact it is Scot R. Stone’s ability to link several plots in one harness and keep them all reined in that makes this book such an enjoyable read. At one corner of his fascinating alternative world, Elvana, we have the quest of King Noran and Baron Oreus to rescue their kidnapped compatriots in the northern caves of Arna that present perils far greater than mere ice. While in the south, in the kingdom of Yawrana, General Regoria and the Fire Chief Decker are battling flames that inflict the ancient sequera trees, and a mysterious death-dealing plague whose only cure is the snowtears, thought to be extinct.
The many characters that people this tightly plotted work leap out of the genre as multidimensional and sympathetic. In this sequence, Braiy Decker recalls the fires that destroyed the sacred sequeras, trees in which the gentle Elders chose to live: “They screamed their painful cries in the sequeras that were engulfed by fiery, dancing death. Soon their faces led to others that had also been lost during his devoted years of service. To keep them alive within his heart he constantly reminded himself of their last living moments.”
One of the notable strengths of Stone’s intricate trilogy (Ice Shadows is the second volume) is the role played by women. The warrior Jada is a case in point. Until she succumbs to the mysterious plague, she is Rydor’s equal in the search for the rejuvenating snowtears, bearing the title “Baron.” Ola and Willow, though victimized by the nefarious Johr and carried away to Arna, do not lose their resolve and are able to exhort their men to feats of courage when fate seems massed against them.
Another element that makes the story so compelling are the constantly shifting challenges faced by each of the protagonists. Rydor encounters blood-sucking water gliders and spike-covered leg stalkers. Noran and his stalwart band find themselves trapped in an ice palace of deadly illusions in which they must battle not only flesh and blood enemies but their own fevered hallucinations.
The conflicts and their resolutions are not merely imaginative. They draw us in to the “reality” of Stone’s fantasy universe, a rather idyllic place where technology is limited and carefully controlled, true authority is respected, bravery is rewarded, and there is much worth saving.