Set initially in Russia during the reign of Empress Anna Ioanovna in the 1740s, J.M. Sidorova’s The Age of Ice turns on a single premise: Alexander Velitsyn, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, is born immune to cold. What’s more, all those emotions that inflame others—passion, rage, shame, etc.—cause him, instead, to generate cold to an equal intensity. (This causes problems.)
In this age of superhero saturation, this setup is an intriguing twist—a historical iteration of the “What would it be like to have a super power in the real world” tale. But it’s not the only impressive aspect of this polished debut novel. Though his effort to understand the cause and map the mechanics of his condition is a major aspect of the plot, it’s the interplay between Velitsyn and history that transforms The Age of Ice from interesting to engrossing. Ultimately, Sidorova’s novel feels like a small physiological fantasy embedded in a much larger piece of historical fiction. For all his uniqueness, Velitsyn is just another person swept along on the waves of history—be they caused by Napoleon or the Great Game between Russia and Great Britain. Like any good piece of historical fiction, The Age of Ice transforms its readers into eager students of the time being portrayed. Sidorova’s accounts of Joseph Billings’ search for the Northeast Passage, the Battle of Austerlitz and the Siege of Herat would fascinate even without Velitsyn’s mysterious, magical presence.
At times, Velitsyn’s tale evokes an almost palpable dread that feels Lovecraftian in tone—though perhaps that’s just a side effect of the Russian fatalism of Velitsyn himself. Nonetheless, no matter how dark the narrative foreshadowing, The Age of Ice is an invigorating debut. It may not spawn a three-film franchise, but this well-researched historical fantasy will have readers eagerly awaiting Sidorova’s next fictional foray.