On the whole, Memories of Ice continues in very much the same vein as books one and two, an overwhelming barrage of characters and plot lines that suddenly coalesce into a satisfying conclusion out of what appeared to be chaos. However, book three didn’t come together quite so neatly for me. When all was said and done, one major story aspect, the mystery of Togg and Fanderay, felt extraneous to the plot. Almost like a separate story that is mashed up with the central narrative but not truly integral to it. No doubt the seed will bear fruit in future books, but in my opinion, this installment felt like it had a third leg grafted on to it.
Memories of Ice is replete with themes of burden and sacrifice. The Mhybe ages prematurely in order to birth Silverfox. Toc is disfigured and traumatized. The Tl’an Imass suffer 300k years of ennui. Whiskeyjack and Rake suffer dehumanization because of their leadership choices. And above all, Itkovian sacrifices to alleviate the suffering of others. Each of these characters has passages that build on these themes, but Itkovian takes it to a new level with strong echoes of a judeo-christian redeemer figure. These themes mingle with surprising examples of mercy to really hammer this allusion home.
I try to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, so it’s a little tricky to get into how satisfying it is to glimpse the real conflict of the larger series, but suffice it to say, now that the big bad takes center stage, the story feels more cohesive, and even things from previous books begin to fall into place. Ganoes Paran’s centrality also continues to come into focus. Even the cosmology takes on more definition. All of this rewards readers who’ve stuck it out through big chunks of text that offered little to no exposition.
Characterization in general occupies a strange place in this narrative. It is so vast, so crowded, that no one gets enough of the spotlight to really blossom into a fully-formed, emotionally rich character. They are distinct, and well written enough to evoke a little pathos from time to time, but this story is so sprawling that it is often difficult to even keep track of who is who, let allow to form strong attachments. Memories of Ice features a new assortment of brigeburners, character that for most of the book are interchangeable until they begin to coalesce as individuals once the story matures. Several dialogue scenes amongst them suffer from floating head syndrome, long conversations of non-descript characters in generic environments. The three main officers of the Grey Swords also have an initially unclear hierarchy and are undifferentiated until Itkovian eventually breaks free of the pack. Still, the novels plethora of characters are interesting, unique, and intriguing, if not intimately depicted.
Erickson uses a new technique for characterization that I don’t recall being so prominent in the first two books of the fallen; interior monologues. They provide a lot of exposition without the overt feel of an info dump. Yet they are a little verbose at times and have the feel of a soliloquy rather than authentic self-reflections. I’m torn on their effectiveness. In one sense, it fits the Shakspearian grandeur of the series, and yet it somewhat clashes with modern sensibilities that I would predict most readers share. Ultimately, they are presented as thoughts would be addressed to an audience and not how they would be addressed to themselves. Stage whispers that, at times, jarred me from the vivid dream.
Kruppe and Quick Ben are personal favorites of mine. The former because of his indelible antics, and the latter his magical prowess. I just can’t help but be delighted when Kruppe’s verbosity kicks into overdrive, his fluid wit more than once made me chuckle aloud, a notable feat for a novel that is overall quite dark. I would like to have seen Quick Ben’s origin story teased out a little more. Instead of having a short expositional flashback, but that’s a minor quibble.
The story structure revolved around two sieges. Once the first siege had concluded, the next couple hundred pages felt a little rambling and aimless, quite a big chunk to be less than dazzling. But in all fairness, as he so often does, Erickson did a phenomenal job of stitching disparate pieces into a very satisfying conclusion. Threads that I thought had been abandon fell into place as the tale wrapped up, despite the “Return of the King” length denouement. Overall, I’d rate this a little closer to pulling it off at the last second than a masterful crescendo to a big climax, but the end had a little of both.
If you’ve gotten this far in the series, you clearly have the ability to file away confusing elements for later resolution. It’s critical to enjoying these books. Great worldbuilding. A few cool characters that sometimes get lost in a huge cast. And intricate, almost fractal plots and subplots are the hallmarks of this series. Overall this is another good installment in a great series. For me, it stumbled a little bit in the middle, but a strong conclusion redeemed it in the end.