Amie Kaufman, Ice Wolves (Elementals #1), HarperCollins Australia, 5 March 2018, 407pp, $17.99 (pbk) ISBN: 9781460755273
From the co-author of international best sellers Unearthed and The Starbound Trilogy, Ice Wolves is Amie Kaufman’s first solo novel and the first instalment in the Elementals series. Like many of the most popular fantasy titles, this story follows the classic structure of the hero’s journey.
Through the eyes of twelve-year-old, orphaned twin Anders we are introduced to the magical land of Vallen. To the north lies the mysterious volcanic realm of the Scorch Dragons, to the south the sprawling harbour town of Holbard, with its prestigious Ulfar Academy, home and military training base to the highly respected, Ice Wolves.
When Anders and his twin sister Rayna accidentally take on their elemental forms at The Trial of the Staff, they are astonished to discover that whilst the reluctant Anders transforms into an Ice Wolf, the ever-confident Rayna becomes one of the much-feared Scorch Dragons. Not only does this unexpected revelation cast considerable doubt over the validity of their treasured sibling relationship, it presents the unfortunate street children with a wider-reaching predicament: Ice Wolves and Scorch Dragons are sworn enemies, who live deeply separate lives.
‘Faster than he could track she grew into a blaze of red, wings unfurling as she towered over him. She took up most of the street, which was one of the widest in Holbard. Tipping her head back, she roared, and the ground trembled beneath his feet.’
In this relatable tale of finding one’s self in a sharply divided world, we see the frightened, lonely Anders transform in more ways than one as he learns the true meaning of friendship, loyalty and bravery.
Kaufman paints a picture of a fascinating world of intriguing rune-powered inventions, shape-shifting possibilities and perilous adventure, whilst retaining the many heartbreaking realities present in our own world. Whilst intolerance and enmity rages across Vallen, the suffering of the poor street children are brought to the forefront in this story.
A large portion of this book focuses on the internal struggle of the main character, a kind of coming of age for Anders as he braves life without his sister for the first time and tries to make sense of his new situation. As the adventure unfolds there are tantalizing mentions of other kinds of elementals, in faraway lands, and a spark of hope for the almost unthinkable resolution between the Ice Wolves and Scorch Dragons in their long-standing feud.
This book certainly lays the groundwork for a richly imagined world yet to be fully explored, and introduces a set of vividly painted characters, at the very start of what promises to be an epic journey.
Any confident middle-to-upper primary aged readers, with a passion for fantasy fiction, will enjoy this title immensely, particularly those with an interest in animals or mythical beasts. Given the touching themes, this would be a great book to share at story time and also a good choice for educators wishing to explore contemporary examples of character archetypes within the mythic structure.
Reviewed by Lisa Hoad