Our Lady of the Ice
“a classic noir mystery that is wrapped inside an alt-history golden age science fiction setting.”
There have been a lot of alternate history scifi/fantasy works out lately, from Adam Christopher’s Made to Kill and Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures, to the Amazon TV show The Man In The High Castle (based on a Phillip K. Dick novel of the same name), so finding that Our Lady of the Ice was another alt-history scifi tale set mid-20th century may have caused an eyebrow or two to raise.
The eyebrows did raise but in the best way possible.
Cassandra Rose Clarke has crafted a fine tale around the idea that part of Antarctica has been populated and developed into Hope City: a glass domed, partially self-sufficient city that has everything from a corrupt bureaucracy, underworld crime syndicate, upper class high-society, lower class slums, and robots.
Yes, robots—specifically androids that have started to, or already achieved, a level of sentient intelligence.
The story centers around Eliana Gomez, a female private investigator (a rarity in a male dominated city and culture) who is desperate to fund her way out of Hope City and get to the mainland of South America, specifically Argentina. She takes a couple of suspect jobs due to their lucrative nature and ends up involved in everything from the Antarctica independence movement to the dealings of Hope City’s dominant crime boss. Add in that her boyfriend is the crime lord’s right hand and Eliana’s life becomes very complicated and dangerous almost overnight.
Eliana’s is not the only point of view that the reader is introduced to. There is Marianella Luna, one of Hope City’s wealthiest aristocrats, who has hired Eliana to help guard a deadly secret. Marianella is being pulled between her duties as one of the wealthy elite and her desire to make Hope City a fully self-sustainable society that is free from mainland influence and control. She also wants to be able to crawl out from under the secret she keeps, but cannot without fear of being exiled from the land she calls home.
Sofia, one of the abandoned androids from the amusement park that Hope City was originally built around, has developed a plan to take over all of Antarctica and, unlike Marianella, make it a utopia for only androids and cyborgs, excluding and removing all humans from the continent as soon as possible. Unfortunately for Sofia, her base programming allows for her to be influenced in ways that drive her rage against humanity creating a powder keg between the androids, the criminal underworld, and the Hope City bureaucracy.
Then there is Diego Armitrano, the crime lord’s right hand man, and his desire to maintain his loyalty to his boss and father-figure while also honoring his love for Eliana. The two sides of Diego’s life do not mesh well, and his involvement with both Hope City’s underworld and Eliana’s investigations create a stage for danger and disaster.
All of these voices are expertly woven together by allowing each character their own chapters. Their personalities are singularly theirs, giving the reader a chance to experience the novel from many points of view. While Eliana’s story is the dominant thread, the other characters are integral to moving the plot along and keeping the reader engaged.
The characters are deeply developed, the world is rich and hints at a global vastness that makes the reader want more, and the pacing and story of Our Lady of the Ice feels like a classic noir mystery that is wrapped inside an alt-history golden age science fiction setting. It is an excellent novel that weaves past mid-20th century nostalgia with futuristic dreams in a seamless tale of love, need, betrayal, loyalty, and suspense.