A strong and sudden thaw by R. W. Day – novel review

Title:: A strong and sudden thaw
Author: R. W. Day
URL: Will be released in January 2008 by Lethe Press.
Now available in ebook form for US $7.50 from allromanceebooks.
Warnings: some m/m, the protagonist is under 18, there is gore, violence and adult themes.
Summary: In a post-apocalyptic, Ice Age America, a teenager comes to manhood in the most trying of times, his fate and that of a young healer tied by circumstances and malevolent forces.

My review:

This is an excellent novel, however you measure it. It’s good science-fiction, it’s a good slash/boy’s love romance, and a beautiful coming of age story. It’s vividly imagined, very real, has a really strong and unpredictable plot and there is as much attention paid to minor characters as the main ones. It’s that kind of thing – the small details, the multiple facets of people – which make this such a rich experience. The author captures very well the claustrophobia of small towns, small worlds, without necessarily condemning or preaching. There are obvious parallels and inspirations from what’s happening in America now, and some apt observations about the role of religion in governance at all levels of government, but the point wasn’t belaboured, and people of faith are presented as people, not just mouth pieces.

The story doesn’t flinch from the dark realities of a subsistence existence or of prejudice, and characters suffer harsh consequences from both, as well as the malevolent presence of the dragons – which in the story are surprisingly not the dominant element.

I did have a couple of very minor quibbles – how can a society that still has access to books and pre-apocalypse technology, have no idea how to make antibiotics? There was a tiny amount of the technology being available when it suited the story, and not when it doesn’t, but generally, it’s consistent. I also thought the introduction of the love interest was slightly clumsy, and for preference, I’d have tightened a couple of scenes up. Callan takes a while to become vivid and interesting, and he never became as real to me as David, but the richness of the other characters tends to compensate somewhat for that. I also thought for a farm boy who’s been hunting all his life, David had some odd scruples, the authorial voice peeking through just a tad too much.

But these really are incredibly minor things, and may not even be noticeable to someone reading for enjoyment, not for review. I still found it enjoyable, gripping – it made me cry a couple of times, I loved the narrative voice, and there was real suspense as to how the story was going to end. The author avoids an easy solution, and it’s not a happily ever after finish, but it’s true to the world she’s created. It’s a wonderful debut for this author, and I would eagerly look for her next book.

Highly recommended.