A Strong & Sudden Thaw by RW Day
The Ice fell upon the world nearly a hundred years ago, and if civilization didn’t rightly collapse, it surely staggered and fell ill a while. In the small town of Moline, Virginia, folks struggle to survive, relying on hybrid seed sent by the faraway Dept. of Reintroduction and Agriculture and their own faith in God and hard work. But when a mated pair of dragons starts hunting the countryside, stealing sheep, and attacking children, the townsfolk quickly learn that they don’t have the weapons or the skills to fight off such predators.
David Anderson is a farmer’s son who has explored the world through books. When he meets the new healer in town, Callan Landers, he doesn’t quite know what to make of the strange warmth stealing over him. It’s not until he surprises Callan with another man—and both men are promptly arrested for sodomy—that David finally realizes the truth about his own feelings.
When David and Callan stumble over a secret in a nearby abandoned town, their personal problems fade before government politics and corruption that threaten lives. It seems the dragons aren’t the worst dangers facing Moline.
This is definitely not a new release and in fact it’s even been re-released by Lethe Press and rumors abound that the author has written a sequel. So why it’s taken me so long to read my favorite genre (post-apocalyptic urban fantasy), I can’t exactly say but I’m glad I finally did. A Strong and Sudden Thaw is masterfully written and contains some of the best prose and flow that I’ve read. The characterization is solid and the world building incredibly dynamic, which gives some stunning moments to this book. Unfortunately the praise is offset by the disjointed and occasionally preaching subplots which have little cohesion and are often too obviously contrived. A much tighter plot driven book would have succeeded in making this one of the best books I’ve ever read – as it is though, it’s very good and worth recommending.
The book is set 100 years in the future after a catastrophic natural event called the Ice, which has frozen the world and set civilization back to the pioneer times. Here the world building is stunning with the level of detail and continuity that is offered. From the subtle nuances of lack of light switches to the more obvious affects of dialogue, speech, and lifestyle, the world building is an intricate and important part of the book that never lets up or missteps. There are almost no jarring moments when technology and the dated time exist until close to the end. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, the deft handling of the world building creates an atmosphere that immediately emerges the reader into the experience but on the other hand the details are incomplete. The story offers no reasoning for the reversion to pioneer times in an isolated village when clearly technology is resuming elsewhere. The story treats technology as if it never existed, which makes no sense given the future date. Almost no one questions the lifestyle even though they are not so far removed from a more advanced time. I would have liked more explanation about the world and what happened after the Ice to the technology. Did it just freeze? How did so much knowledge, history, and advancement simply disappear? How does a civilization fall so far backwards without more explanation? These questions were left unanswered and ultimately combined to help keep what is still a thorough world building somewhat incomplete.
Additionally, the summary gives a good indication of the book but the plot is offset by the numerous subplots which leave the real focus of the book undecided. There is a threat to the town from dragons, which may or may not have some tie to the government. There is also the coming of age story for the character of David as he understands his sexuality and what it means for his life and future with a forbidden romance. Then there is the government conspiracy and missing townspeople tied into a subplot of corruption and religious involvement. Each one of these plots could have been the main driving story and produced a compelling, thought provoking, and well written book. As it is the various storylines do come together to give a well written and wonderfully entertaining story, yet the lack of focus is clear and disappointing. The dragon threat is very easily resolved with an almost disappointing ending and the government corruption is never fully explained or resolved. The religious problems are almost preachy with the anti-gay sentiment and how evil and wrong such is, painting the characters as stereotypes and lack real depth.
However for these faults the story still manages to be intense, absorbing, and enthralling. Part of this is due to the great prose and dialogue which set a pace and flow that keeps interest and attention through all the various side plots. Another great aspect is the characterization. The character of David is a young adult, forced to be a man earlier than he should be due to circumstance and society. His slow understanding of himself and the world around him is riveting. He makes numerous mistakes and shows his immaturity several times, but this only serves to give a well developed young man. His strength and maturity grow throughout the course of the story and paints a picture of a likable and intense man. His relationship to Callan is a minor sticking point due to their difference in ages but the sweet and temperate nature to their love helps overcome this. The various secondary characters give the story breath and texture for the most part with a few very classic evil doers.
The ending is left hanging with some very big unresolved issues so it’s not too surprising there is a sequel. Given the great writing and potential within this offering and the amount of time to work on the sequel, I have extremely high hopes for any forthcoming book. If you haven’t had a chance to read this, be sure to pick it up at Lethe Press. It’s well worth your time and money.
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