Cold Fantasy for a Hot Summer's Day -- Part 2: books for older readers

In my previous post, I offered some Cold Books for younger readers (7 to 10ish). Here's a rather eclectic, off the top of my head, selection of books for older readers (11 and up) that are delightfully chilly, guaranteed (maybe) to take your mind off the heat.

No list of Cold Books would be complete without the classics--The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis (and the even colder The Silver Chair), and The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. These, I feel, are so familiar that no discussion is necessary...other books, however, aren't so familiar:

The Snow-Walker Trilogy, by Catherine Fisher (The Snow-Walker's Son, The Empty Hand, and The Soul Thieves)
This book features lots of cold, the sort where the dregs of the wine freeze in the bottoms of the cups, and concomitant desperate circumstances for the people struggling in snowy wastelands against oppressive evil. This trilogy, drawing on Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythology, tells of the evil magic of the Snow Walker Gudrun, who rules the Jarl and his people with her oppressive power. Banished to the most northern keep, where Gudrun's monstrous son is imprisoned, Jessa fears for the lives of herself and her brother. But even in the frozen north there is hope... (Anyone curious about Catherine Fisher's pre-Incarceron books might do worse than to start with these books--I enjoyed them lots).

Norse mythology lends itself nicely to cold--another good series (for upper middle grade readers) is that of Katherine Langrish, beginning with Troll Fell (my review). If memory serves, by the second chapter we are knee-deep in snow, and very cold withall.

The Owl Keeper, by Christine Brodien-Jones (2010)
In her dystopian fantasy (another for upper middle grade readers), Brodien-Jones went the Cold route. The apocalypse that destroyed much of civilization left supposedly uninhabitable frozen zones in its wake...but, as young Max discovers, there are many things that he hadn't been told. There are the horrible secrets, such as the hideous destiny for which he is being prepared, but there are also more pleasant surprises awaiting in the frozen lands to which he escapes....Definitely a book that will make you glad your feet are warm and toasty!

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
Some people might remember the steam-punk elements of this book, or the strange genetically- crafted Darwenist creatures. Although those are still clear in my mind, I also remember lots of struggling in snow in the Swiss Alps. (here's my review).

Three books have taken the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" and run with it -- Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George, and East, by Edith Pattou. I've checked East out of the library at least three times....and never read it, but I can attest to the fact that the first two books both have lovely ice castles--just the thing for a hot August day.

Winter Rose, by Patricia McKillip (1996), is a Cold Book I'd recommend to fans of lyrical fantasy:

""Who are you you?" I whispered. Cold racked through me, the thorns tightened their hold. She was something wild in my wood, the glint of an eye on a lightless night, the formless shadow the moon reveals tangled in the shadow of a tree. "Who are you?"

"I am night," she said, and it was. "I am winter's song," and I heard it. "I am the shadow of the bloody moon and all the winds that harvest in it." I felt them. "I am the dead of winter."

She wore my mother's face." (page 185)

Moving off into space, to cold planets, two in particular come to mind. Marion Zimmer Bradely's Darkover, with its red, inadequately warm, sun, is the setting for numerous books. I think the coldest of them all has to be City of Sorcery, in which there is much plowing through snowdrifts and falling off icy mountains and other wintry fun. And then there is Winter, a freezing planet created by Ursula Le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness. This is a sci fi classic for two reasons--the world building is superb, and it is a powerful exploration of what "gender" means. It's also one of those imaginary places that are so cold you'll be glad it's summer, which was the whole point of these lists....

Like I said up at the beginning, this list is a bit of a smorgasbord. Please do feel free to suggest others--the colder the better!

Edited to add: Readers have reminded me that Hannah's Winter (my review) and The Doomsday Book (my review) are both very nicely cold indeed. And also The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and Elidor, both by Alan Garner (which I should review someday...)

(just in case anyone was wondering why I didn't include Thief Eyes, which I just reviewed, since it is set in Iceland, and therefore is not exactly warm, geography-wise. However, in as much as the central character finds herself on the verge of setting fire to the world for a good part of the book, it didn't seem quite cold enough).

And maybe (since, ironically, it is a very pleasantly un-hot day here in southern New England) I'll go downstairs now, and read Lord of the Burning Sands, which somehow I wasn't quite in the mood for much of our own burningly hot July...or I could go and do more wood stacking. Winter, after all, is On Its Way.

(Message for Tanita, over in Scotland, who has been frustrated of late by my recommendations of older books--Troll Fell and Winter Rose are available in the Glasgow Library; the Snow-Walker trilogy, not so much. My faith in the Glasgow Public Library hit rock bottom when I found that it did not have a copy of Mark of the Horse Lord, by Rosemary Sutcliff, which I had made Tanita promise, more or less, to read, as her first Sutcliff book. The Shame of it).


  1. OOh! Ooh! A book actually already next to my bed is The Left Hand of Darkness. It felt like it was time for a reread.

    The library system here is seriously, direly, horribly in need of a makeover. Or a massive donation of my Cybils books. Hmmm.

  2. The Doomsday Book would really be one of my favourite cold books, the past that Kivrin arrives in is so bone-achingly cold and wonderfully described. I see you said you find it uncomfortable to read, and I agree that it's agonising, but I love it.

    There's the Weirdstone of Brisingamen, too, and fimbulwinter - I don't know that it's especially clearly described, but the idea is really gripping. Garner has a gift for making you feel connected to the past and to legends, and both Elidor and Red Shift have a gritty coldness which runs through them.

  3. Cold books on a summer's day? What a great concept!! Thanks!

  4. Love this list! And I can attest to East's goodness. It was one of the first books I read when I started my blog, and I thought it was brilliant. :)

  5. Great idea and great list! I love Catherine Fisher's books, but somehow have never read the Snow-Walker Trilogy. I'll have to check that one out. The Left Hand of Darkness is definitely one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written. I studied it in a college lit class on science fiction that I took years ago. Le Guin is a brilliant writer, and her worldbuilding is always excellent!


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