October 10, 2011
• The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
• Audiobook: 5 cds; narrated by Nancy Travis
• Publisher: Hatchette Audio; 2005
• ISBN: 1594830657
• Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction; Magical Realism
• Recommended for: Anyone who likes to be bogged down by sensory details, figurative language, multiple beaten-to-death themes, and false characterization.
Disclaimer: I don’t read too many books that I dislike. When I do, I tend to be very passionate and sardonic in my review. Just a warning on tone…
Quick Review: The Ice Queen was dull and hard to get into with far too much going on, most of which I couldn’t care less about.
How I Got Here: In the last year, I have fallen in love with the novels of Sarah Addison Allen and her particular style of magical realism. I have been seeking out other magical realism novels and had previously read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I hoped that this book would satisfy my desire for more magical realism. Also, this book satisfies a task for the Fall Reading Challenge.
The Book: Goodreads’ synopsis:
From the bestselling author of Practical Magic, a miraculous, enthralling tale of a woman who is struck by lightning, and finds her frozen heart is suddenly burning.
Be careful what you wish for. A small town librarian lives a quiet life without much excitement. One day, she mutters an idle wish and, while standing in her house, is struck by lightning. But instead of ending her life, this cataclysmic event sparks it into a new beginning.
She goes in search of Lazarus Jones, a fellow survivor who was struck dead, then simply got up and walked away. Perhaps this stranger who has seen death face to face can teach her to live without fear. When she finds him, he is her opposite, a burning man whose breath can boil water and whose touch scorches. As an obsessive love affair begins between them, both are forced to hide their most dangerous secrets–what turned one to ice and the other to fire.
A magical story of passion, loss, and renewal, The Ice Queen is Alice Hoffman at her electrifying best.
My Analysis and Critique: The Ice Queen was dull and hard to get into with far too much going on, most of which I couldn’t care less about. Hoffman’s writing felt forced and over the top. She overused sensory details and figurative language, her characterization felt false, the themes were numerous and stretched thin, and her protagonist made a huge character judgement that had me yelling at my speakers (audiobook, remember?).
Alice Hoffman, meet Dan Brown. Have a baby. He or she will be an excellent writer!
It is rare that I say this, but Hoffman shows too much! She really took the old adage “Show, don’t tell” to heart. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate colorful descriptions of setting and characters, and there is really nothing better than a dead-on metaphor. Yet, Hoffman gets carried away! Every tree has to be described, every observation explained through simile. I get it- she’s the ice queen- she’s cold! You don’t have to beat me over the head with a gazillion literary devices to get me to understand! How many ways can you describe the color red? Hoffman has probably utilized each and every one. Everything in this book is shown to the umpteenth degree that I began to despise figurative language! Here is an example from the first paragraph:
Wishes are brutal, unforgiving things. They burn your tongue the moment they’re spoken and you can never take them back. They bruise and bake and come back to haunt you. I’ve made far too many wishes in my lifetime, the first when I was eight years old. Not the sort of wish for ice cream or a party dress or long blond hair; no. The other sort, the kind that rattles your bones, then sits in the back of your throat, a greedy red toad that chokes you until you say it aloud. The kind that could change your life in an instant, before you have time to wish you could take it back.
Rather nice for an opening paragraph, but this goes on and on and on! In the first chapter, more than half of the paragraphs contain some sort of figurative language. Perhaps this is why it was so easy to space out. She told very little, her plot didn’t feel concrete enough. She needs a dose of Dan Brown- he could teach her a thing or two about telling…
I’ve got a few more pages left to write…just enough to squeeze in one more irrelevant theme!
The Ice Queen weighs in at a measly 211 pages. Yet, Hoffman manages to explore at least nine major themes and topics! She explores wishes (as read in above excerpt), the protagonist as “Ice Queen”, lightning strikes, fairy tales, the relevance of colors, death, reading habits, uniqueness as a personality trait, and then, for good measure, she throws in butterflies during the last chapter. I’m not even sure I covered all of the themes here. She does a poor job in writing on all of these themes and topics, either because she beats them to death, or throws them in momentarily and then drops them. Some of these themes she pursues strongly, even seeming to base her entire novel upon them, only to reveal briefly at the end that there was no creedence to them: the narrator was wrong, that wasn’t what it was about at all.
I couldn’t give a damn about you…No wait! I love you! Let’s move in together!
Hoffman’s characters make uncharacteristic choices. Sometimes, they just disappear all together. I would go into more detail, but that would mean spoilers, and even though I believe you will choose NOT to read this book after reading my review, I still try not to do spoilers. I think the above heading illustrates the erroneous ways of Hoffman’s characterization. Perhaps if Hoffman spent less time on sensory details, figurative language, and over/underarching themes, the choices her characters make would make more sense. But, she doesn’t really do much with characterization, so it all feels false and forced.
What?! No! No! That’s not what that means! How can you say that?!
So, as I have illustrated, Alice Hoffman’s The Ice Queen was a rather unmemorable experience as it just seemed to drag on…except when it didn’t. There was one little tiny plot twist that had me arguing with Nancy Travis and her Three Men and a Baby voice. The protagonist, a librarian, snoops into her sister-in-law’s circulation records and discovers that she (the sister-in-law) has just returned a book titled “A Hundred Ways to Die”. This causes our busybody, uniformed librarian to conclude that her sister-in-law wants to kill herself. What?!? Are you kidding me? As a reader of a variety of genres, I was offended by this gross misjudgement. Last year, I bought a book titled Demons and Demonology and The Witch’s Magical Handbook. Am I a witch? A satanist? Heck no! I hope to write a book one day dealing with the paranormal, and books with witches and supernatural creatures always fascinate me. So, I’m doing research! How could a librarian make such a ridiculously based judgement? She goes on to confront her sister-in-law, who reveals it wasn’t for her, but for someone else who might want to kill themself. I still say that’s stupid. Just another illustration on why this book is poor, poor, poor.
Don’t read this book. Just. Don’t.
- Goodreads reviews