When I was younger one of the things I loved in my home was artwork by Rodney Matthews and I still have a canvas print of his Ice Spirit on my wall. I always knew that was inspired by the Michael Moorcock book The Ice Schooner but for some reason I never read it, even whilst reading the Corum, Hawkmoon, and Elric series in my late-teens.
Coming across a copy in a second hand book shop earlier this year gave me a chance to correct that and give this book a chance. The book is set in a world covered in ice where noble families rule the eight cities and merchants and whalers traverse the seas on great ice ships. Our story concerns Konrad Arflane – a captain who has lost his ship and his hope – who rescues the dying Pyotr Rorsefne on the ice and returns him to his home. Rorsefne is essentially the ruler of the city state of Freigalt and in return for his rescue he gifts Arflane his great ship – the schooner of the title – provided he sails her to the fabled city of New York. Rorsefne was regarded as an eccentric for his belief that the world was warming up as the religion of the Ice Mother insists that entropy is the natural state and all will remain and become colder.
Arflane follows this request and is joined in this quest by Ulrica Ulsenn (the daughter of the now dead Rorsefne), her husband Janek, and her cousins Manfred, and Urquart. Relationships are complicated as Ulrica and Arflane have fallen in love and her injured husband is aware of this, Manfred seems to be aware but is inclined to cause mischief, and Urquart is revealed to be a religious fanatic desperate to find the Ice Mother and pray for the continued cold.
For a slight book this crams in a lot of world building through dialogue and scene setting. It becomes obvious this is a future Earth where something went wrong and caused a huge ice age (initially I thought it was far future with a dying sun, but it’s self-inflicted instead) and the society is clearly delineated and shown to be feudal with a strong religious tone. It’s also clear that things are changing – the whales are disappearing (they’re land whales and are struggling to acclimate to a rise in temperature), the ice is getting thinner, and some of the younger people doubt their faith.
At the same time that slightness leads to a rush in plot and some confused motivations. The depth of feelings between Arflane and Ulrica needed more time to grow as otherwise it just feels like a sexual attraction that they feel guilt about. Urquart’s sudden descent at the end of the book into religious fanaticism again felt rushed as his anger towards his family hadn’t been explained before. And the sudden reveal in New York at the end definitely needed more space, as to suddenly reveal a more advanced remnant of humanity with technology, mind control weapons, and knowledge that the cold cycle was ending really was too abruptly dealt with.
Generally this is not a bad book, it’s a quick and entertaining read. But it lacks depth and doesn’t handle it’s one female character well (she’s regarded as property and is very much a damsel in distress until the last few pages when the impression is given that she is hope for the future). Not one of Moorcock’s best but an easy entry point to the writer as otherwise you may get lost in the whole Eternal Champion confusion.