City of Ice, by Laurence Yep (Starscape, a Tor imprint, 2011, middle grade, 384 pages), is the second book in a trilogy set in 1941 in an alternate version of our world, a place where there are dragons, and shape shifters, and all manner of other "mythological" creatures living among human-kind. And in this world, there are also gods and goddesses...not always kindly, but incredibly powerful.
In City of Fire, young Scirye swore an oath to the goddess Nanaia to avenge her sister's death at the hands of a foul dragon, and his foul master, Mr. Roland, and to rescue the priceless artifact that they had stolen, one of the Five Lost Treasures of Emperor Yu. If Mr. Roland gains control of them all, he will have mastery over the whole world.
Scirye and her brave lap griffin are joined in this quest by two street urchins Leech and Koko, both of whom have more to them then meets the eye, and by Bayang, a dragon whose mission to assassinate Leech (its a long story) takes a back seat to the more important goal of revenging herself on Mr. Roland's dragon, an ancient enemy of her people.
In City of Ice, the quest of the odd assortment of companions takes them to the frozen north (where Canadian mounties patrol the skies riding on the backs of giant birds, among other marvels). There they must confront Mr. Roland and his minions (both human and monstrous ones), but there they find new friends, not least of whom is the great bear spirit of the north himself.
The action and adventure are virtually non-stop, and the pages are full to the brim with fantastical creatures and places. Yep's world is a place where ancient peoples are alive and well-- the Sogdians, the masters of the Silk Route, are thriving as traders in the wilds of the north, and Scirye's people, the Kushans, ancient rulers of the region around Afghanistan and northern India, are still a major world power. For shear extravagant fun with alternate world building, this series is hard to beat.
My one reservation is that there wasn't enough time spent on character development (plot comes out ahead here, hands down). I think that part of the problem, for me, is that the point of view keeps switching between the three main characters, so that we don't get to see for ourselves what they are thinking and feeling, we are told. The introduction of several new major characters here in City of Ice further diluted the personalities of the main characters.
There is, however, one truly interesting relationship, that between the boy Leech and the dragon Bayang (who is hands down the most interesting character). I'm curious to see how this relationship plays out in the third book, but what I'm really hoping for that Leech and Scirye, who up to this point seem not particularly interested in each other in any way, despite being travelling companions, Notice each other and emotional complications ensue. One thing that makes it clear this is a middle grade book is that so far in the series there are no hints of any romantic feelings whatsoever!
Perhaps in book 3, City of Death, things will be different, and this will happen. I'll definitely be reading it--like I said, the world building is tremendously fascinating...and even though I lean toward character, I still enjoy an exiting story, such as this series offers.
This is a series that deserves more attention than it seems to have gotten--what with the adventurous pursuit of the bad guys, the direct participation of sundry deities in the course of events, the panoply of monsters and mythological creatures, and the quirky cast of characters, it's one I'd recommend to younger fans of Percy Jackson, for whom the romance aspect of that books was the least interesting part!
Added bonus: the diverse cast of characters (none of the central characters are European, or of direct European descent), and the non-Eurocentric mythological background, makes this another one for my multicultural sci fi/fantasy list.
Here's another review, at Eva's Book Addiction
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher