Search: Title Author Article. Rate this book. The Icemark is a kingdom in grave danger. Its king has been killed in battle. Its enemy lies in wait.
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Tolkien, C. Before beginning The Cry of the Icemark, he asked himself what had grabbed his interest as a young reader. The answer? Heroes, magic, monsters, and talking beasts. Stuart was born in Leicester, in the East Midlands of England, where he still lives today. His family background includes English, Irish, Romany, and Jewish blood. Although, as a student, his grades were average at best, Stuart was fortunate to have a teacher who inspired in him a lifelong love of reading.
Since leaving school, he has worked as a teacher and archaeologist, and now balances life as both a bookseller and an author.
She was thirteen years old, tall for her age, and could ride her horse as well as the best of her father's soldiers. She was also heir to the throne of the Icemark. Her tutor might add that she was attentive when she wanted to be, clever when she bothered to try, and had her father's temper. Few compared her to her mother, who had died when Thirrin was born. But those who remembered the proud young woman of the fierce Hypolitan people said that Thirrin was her double.
The soldier riding guard over her didn't care about any of this. They'd been hunting in the forest since dawn and he was cold and tired, but Thirrin showed no signs of wanting to go home. They were following a set of tracks she insisted were werewolf prints, and the soldier was afraid she might be right. He'd already eased the spears in his scabbard and had been riding with his shield on his arm for the past hour. Probably the werewolf she was tracking was just a loner in search of easy hunting in the cattle pastures, but you could never be too careful.
With any luck she could capture it, she thought, and take it back to the city as a prize. And perhaps before it was executed it could be made to give useful information about The-Land-of-the-Ghosts.
But before they could move, the thick undergrowth that lined the path burst open and a huge animal leaped out. It was vaguely man-shaped but extremely hairy, and its face was a strange mixture of wolf and human. For a moment it stared at them, its eyes full of hate, then it charged. It easily dodged the soldier's clumsy thrust and headed straight for Thirrin, but her horse was battle-trained and it leaped forward to meet the attack, lashing out with its steel-shod hooves.
Taken by surprise, the werewolf took the full force of the kick, but it only staggered back for a second before growling with fury and attacking again. By this time, Thirrin had drawn her long cavalry saber and, in one fluid movement, she wheeled her horse around, leaned from the saddle, and hacked deeply into the werewolf's arm. The soldier had recovered by now and he charged, knocking the werewolf off its feet. Before it could get up, both horses drew in shoulder to shoulder, snorting fiercely and lashing out with their hooves.
The creature scrambled to its feet and retreated into the thick undergrowth where the horses couldn't follow. For a moment it licked at its wounds with a long red tongue, then it emerged from the thorny bush and without warning threw itself at Thirrin's horse, knocking her from the saddle. Her charger blundered away, screaming in terror, and she lay on the path dazed and badly winded. She seemed to be watching a silent and tiny picture of the world from a point high above the action.
She was dizzily aware that there was danger of some sort, but what it was exactly she couldn't quite remember. She watched as a soldier attacked a huge wolfman, but the creature broke his spear and the soldier's horse reared and galloped away as he clung on desperately. Now the wolfman was turning back and walking slowly toward her.
Reality crashed back. The world filled her head to the brim again and with a start she remembered where she was. The werewolf was approaching with slow, deliberate steps as though it was enjoying the moment just before the kill, like a cat with a helpless mouse within easy reach.
Her sword lay close by and, grabbing it, she leaped to her feet. The creature stopped and drew back its lips over enormous teeth, almost as though it were grinning. Thirrin didn't hesitate; shouting the war cry of the House of Lindenshield, she attacked. Before it could react, her blade bit deeply into its shoulder and it fell back, surprised by her ferocity.
But then her boots slipped on wet leaves, and she crashed to the ground. Immediately the creature pounced and, wrenching her sword away, it sat astride her, its massive weight crushing the breath out of her lungs. Thirrin's fighting spirit still roared within her, though, and as the creature lowered its jaws toward her throat, she punched it hard on the nose. The werewolf shook its head and sneezed, taken completely aback.
I don't want anyone saying I died running away," she yelled, managing to keep the terror out of her voice. The creature lowered its head toward her face again, but this time its eyes were filled with an almost human expression of puzzlement.
It stayed like that for nearly a minute, seeming to scrutinize her. Then, without warning, it threw back its head and howled, its voice climbing to a high chilling note before falling slowly away to silence. It looked at her again, its eyes so human that Thirrin felt she could almost talk to it. Suddenly it leaped away, leaving her to gasp for breath, its enormous weight gone. Slowly she struggled to a sitting position and watched as the werewolf picked up her sword and drove it point-first into the thick forest litter.
Then it did something that amazed her: The huge creature bowed, folding one of its arms across its torso while the other swept out before it in a delicate gesture, like the most fashionable of courtiers. Despite everything, Thirrin almost giggled. The werewolf threw back its head again and a rough coughing and growling noise burst from its mouth, as though it were laughing.
Then it ran off through the trees, leaving nothing behind but shaking branches. Thirrin climbed to her feet and collected her sword. She was trembling with shock, but fascinated. Why didn't the werewolf kill her?
Could such creatures think and make decisions? And if so, did this one actually decide to let her live? She was astounded.
Everything she'd ever been told and all of her beliefs and ideas about the Wolf-folk were shaken by this. She'd always thought they were mindless killers, as unthinking as any other primitive and evil creature from beyond the Icemark's northern borders, and yet the wolfman had shown Compassion, perhaps?
A crashing and thrashing in the trees interrupted her thoughts, and she leveled her sword, ready for a renewed attack. But it was only her soldier escort. He'd regained control of his bolting horse and had come charging back, ready to die in her defense. Better that than die as a punishment for not carrying out his duty properly. Thirrin had to endure almost ten minutes of him checking her over for injuries and a long and detailed explanation of how he'd had no chance of controlling his horse when it bolted.
But at last she was allowed to mount his horse, and they started the slow journey home. She thought through everything that had happened. Could she really just reject all she'd ever accepted as true about werewolves? As she continued her journey home, her quick mind continued to puzzle through the amazing possibility that the Wolf-folk were thinking, even feeling, creatures. After a few minutes of Thirrin riding pillion, her own horse reappeared out of the trees, whinnying with relief to see them.
Then the trees gave way completely and the land stretched out before them. They reined to a halt and stared out over the wide plain that surrounded Frostmarris, the capital of the Icemark. The land was a patchwork of hedgerows and fields, orchards and gardens, all green and fertile in the country's short summer, while directly ahead the city rose out of the surrounding farmland like a huge stone ship in a sea of golden wheat. Each of its massive gates faced the direction of each of the four winds, and over the south gate hung the huge Solstice Bell, its polished bronze gleaming in the bright sunshine, seeming to beckon Thirrin and her escort home.
At the center of the settlement, she could see her father's fortress dominating the streets from its position high on the hill. The royal banner of a fighting white bear on a blue background was clearly visible as a cool breeze stretched it flat and snapping in the air, as though it were leading a charge of King Redrought's cavalry.
Thirrin spurred her horse on, already recovering from the shock of the battle and anxious to tell her father about the wolfman. They thundered across the plain, raising a cloud of dust on the summer-dry roads, and soon she and her soldier escort were riding through the gates of the city and up the main street.
It was market day, and country people from the surrounding villages and farms lined the way with their stalls, selling everything from vegetables and cheeses to eggs and newly slaughtered meat.
It was hot, and swarms of flies had been drawn to the blood and offal, making Thirrin's horse skittish so that it snorted and sidled as they moved slowly through the crowds. Unused to seeing royalty, some of the country folk who rarely came to the city stared as Thirrin rode by. Some even pressed forward to touch the hem of her tunic or her riding boots, as if she were a holy relic of some sort.
This embarrassed her deeply, and she immediately unslung her shield and rode along with it on her arm, hiding behind the mask of her status. It's the Princess! Thirrin found herself wishing she'd worn her helmet and not just the simple iron cap she usually wore for hunting. At least in her war gear she had a noseguard that hid part of her face.
War of the worlds
Much fantasy writing remains a closed book to me, so I picked up the nearpage The Cry of the Icemark with some trepidation. I'm delighted to report, however, that it was well worth the muscle strain. Coming from the stable of publisher Barry Cunningham - who has signed up the likes of JK Rowling over the years - it has an excellent pedigree. Here's a man who seems to know a good children's book when he reads one. And, once again, he hasn't let us down. This book is fantastic fun and has now won the first Ottakar's Children's Book Prize.
The Cry of the Icemark