Here Be Robots

Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Reading Challenge: “A Science-Fiction Novel”

You should probably read this book. It’s not like anything else you’ve ever read, but at the same time it’s like a lot of things you’ve read. It’s a film noir, complete with scrappy PI; it’s a political thriller with gangsters and politicians equally corrupt; it’s a robot revolution. It’s kind of like Blade Runner in a steampunk 1960s. And did I mention it takes place in Antarctica?

Noir really was the main impression this book left with me, and in spite of it being pretty cinematic, I kind of hope they never make it into a movie. Not now. Diego could have been played by Alan Ladd, Marianella by Veronica Lake. Sofia, the beautiful robot, could have been Grace Kelly (I know I’m mixing my eras here, but it doesn’t matter in fantasy casting). Lauren Bacall would’ve made a good Eliana, and Luciano strikes me as a young Paul Newman. It’s an easy book to fantasy cast because of the types and because of the type of story.

This is not a perfect book, and I warn you now: I’m feeling pretty comprehensive at the moment so there are spoilers ahead.

Most of my complaints are character-related. In spite of being the person with the biggest changes in her character arc, Marianella was weirdly uninteresting. I couldn’t quite figure it out. She was kind of bland, even when wrestling with some very complex issues. I also didn’t understand her religion. She seemed to be the only character, not just of the main characters but in the entire world, who was religious. There was never any explanation, implicit or explicit, why. “Sacrilege” was dropped as a term a few times, not just by her, but it seemed out of place. Overall Hope City appeared to be a very secular society. It was puzzling, especially given the title of the book.

Diego’s perspective, meanwhile, was much worse. There was no depth to it. I was actually waiting for the surprise twist that Diego was an android, because his main character trait was that he had been programmed for loyalty. When (AND HERE BE SPOILERS, FOLKS) he ran into the conflict between his boss Cabrera and his girlfriend Eliana, his only thought basically boiled down to “this sucks.” There was no denial, no thinking about a way he could reconcile the conflict, absolutely zero insight, not a second questioning his loyalty to his boss even though we already know he doesn’t like the things he has to do for Cabrera. That whole chapter was essentially “I don’t like this – oh no, an explosion!” and that was the last we heard from him directly. I really question what purpose it served including his perspective, other than to establish that humans are also programmable if you really think about it. I was always much more interested in Eliana, Sofia, and Luciano (whose perspective we never got, and I was sorry about that).

The overarching plot probably wasn’t great, but there were two things that were: one, more interesting than great, was that the narrative took a very neutral perspective on the android/human conflict. Oddly neutral. It was an interesting choice to make. And two, there were some great scenes. Really great scenes. The Last Night celebration. The gala. Sofia’s reprogramming. The attack on Cabrera’s headquarters (bonus points for double intensity). The rainstorm. Those are scenes that are going to stay with me, even if I forget about the political maneuvering.

So, basically: it’s a good book, not perfect, but unique and interesting and certainly engaging. You should probably go read it.

Suggested pairing: Obviously, something cold weather-appropriate. I suggest Irish coffee, in honor of Eliana’s coffee drinking habits. A porter or a chocolate stout would also be good.

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