The Ice Lion (The Rewilding Reports #1)
by Kathleen O’Neal Gear
Science Fiction/Climate Fiction
Expected publication date: June 15, 2021, by DAW
A thousand years in Earth’s future, thick algae-like zyme coats the oceans, while glaciers three miles thick cover vast swathes of land. Before the ice took over the world, human scientists recreated certain species of Ice Age animals and hominids in the desperate hope that some kind of life would survive on Earth. Lynx and his best friend Quiller are members of the Sealion tribe, Denisovans descended from the recreated hominids of a thousand years earlier. Their world is full of ice and monstrous beasts constantly hunting them with something more than animal intelligence. At sixteen summers old and newly married, Lynx thinks his place in his village is assured, but after a disastrous night, he is forced to undergo a sacred rite that will likely end in his death. Quiller moves to follow Lynx into the unknown in an act of love and devotion. As the two proceed on their journeys to a new land, they come across a strange old man who seems to be the last of the Jemen– the ancient people who made the world as it is now. The man pushes both Lynx and Quiller to their emotional extremes for reasons neither can fathom, but which may change the world as they know it.
There are few American writers as accomplished in such incongruous fields as archaeology and creative writing as Kathleen O’Neal Gear, who has published dozens of novels and won numerous distinctions for her work in preserving the cultural history of the United States over the past few decades. Her fictional works blend these two fields, portraying the ancient peoples of North America as historical and archaeological research understand them, bringing the past to life in a way that few other writers can. In The Ice Lion, Gear imagines a possible future where twenty-first-century technology gene-editing technology, CRISPR, is used to recreate– and possibly blend– species that lived tens of thousands of years ago in order to prevent the total destruction of life on Earth after a last-ditch effort to reverse global warming due to climate change goes wrong and plunges the planet into a new Ice Age.
The story is told from the perspective of two young Denisovans who, understandably, have no knowledge of the science that created the Earth as they know it. The Jemen are remote legends, and the Sealion people have developed stories that explain their world. But they have understandably gotten things wrong because they know nothing about the ancient technology that made them. And so the voices of the Ice Giants are entirely mysterious, as are the fates of the Jemen. The reader can gather certain things from context clues (assuming they have a working knowledge of current scientific trends), but the clues don’t explain everything, and so important questions about this icy world go unanswered- presumably to be addressed in later books.
Perhaps the unanswered questions would be less frustrating if the story slowed down a little. The pacing is quick and tends to take great leaps forward, which leads to confusion as to how far Lynx and Quiller have traveled on their respective travels. That’s not to say that The Ice Lion isn’t thoughtful or introspective; it puts a good deal of emphasis on the characters’ interior journeys and less on the exterior ones, which makes it difficult to place them in space and time.
The most challenging aspect of The Ice Lion are the characters themselves. Lynx and Quiller do not have lovable personalities. They are radically different from modern humans, and their society is unlike anything a Western reader of the twenty-first-century would know, but the essentials– Quiller’s love for Lynx and willingness to care for those weaker than she is, and Lynx’s desire to prove that he is a brave man– are qualities we all share, even if the packaging is different from what we see every day. Lynx and Quiller’s stories make The Ice Lion a worthwhile story, but the unanswered questions make for an ambiguous ending.
Thank you to NetGalley and DAW for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.