The Ice Soldier by Paul Watkins

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The Ice Soldier by Paul Watkins

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Those looking for the pace of previous Paul Watkins novels may be disappointed by The Ice Soldier's slow build-up, but Bookbag enjoyed its slow acceleration. There is something irresistibly romantic about mountains and mountain climbers and Watkins captures it well in an atmospheric book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 364 Date: November 2006
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571227440

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The last Paul Watkins novel I read was a real page turner. I galloped through Thunder God, enjoying it thoroughly until I'd raced to the denouement, which was, frankly, one of the most preposterous I'd ever read. I was so annoyed by such a waste of a read that I sulked for days. Well, hours perhaps, but you know what I mean. The pace of The Ice Soldier is considerably more dignified, but I still approached its final chapters with some trepidation. Thankfully, everything ended so much more satisfactorily. There is a twist in the tail - Watkins clearly likes a twist - but it's in keeping with the rest of the book and is reasonably well sign-posted if you're paying attention.

Essential first paragraph over. You are safe to read this book.

William Bromley is the titular ice soldier, living in the post-war Britain of the early 1950s. Before the war, Bromley and his friends had formed the Lucky Six, a group of young and enthusiastic mountaineers. Like many who climb, mountaineering was their passion. They lived and worked for the weeks they spent in the Alps. During the war, Bromley is called upon to lead a critical expedition to the Alps. Five of the Lucky Six take part. The sixth, Stanley, a conscientious objector, refuses to go. The mission is a disaster and three of the young men are left dead. After the war, Bromley and Stanley, both crippled by guilt, form the Society of Former Mountaineers and vow never to climb again.

But of course, this is an adventure story. They will climb again, for it is their only chance at redemption.

I rather liked The Ice Soldier. Those who like their adventure stories to be high octane from the very first page may like it a little less. It starts slowly and builds up pace throughout, but the hurry is really reserved for the last third of the book. I liked the characters too - they are given enough depth and subtlety to make them interesting, although they remain subordinate to the general story of man against mountain and man against himself, which is what any Biggles adventure is all about. And it's all very Biggles. The Ice Soldier could really have been written in the 1950s. There's something rather touchingly dated about the whole thing. The Ice Soldier doesn't feel like a book that was written in the 21st century at all. Ultimately, it's a light adventure story about some jolly decent chaps exorcising their ghosts by manly feats of derring do, backed up with some direct, unpretentious prose and some wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of snow and ice. It's also very well researched.

It won't change your life, but The Ice Soldier will give you an afternoon of unashamed escapism that leaves you with the warm feeling that perhaps the world isn't so bad after all. And we all need afternoons like that.

Thanks to the publisher, Faber, for sending it to me.

Alan Furst's The Foreign Correspondent may appeal to those looking for something with a little more weight. You might also enjoy The Summer of Broken Stories by James Wilson.

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