“Hope comes at a cost, one that can only be paid in blood.”
It takes a very skilled author to write a satisfying fantasy novella, yet Cahill delivers time and time again. The Ice is another excellent addition to the Bound and the Broken series, blowing the world open even further and giving backstory to some key characters in the main series. This story will chill you to your bones, while simultaneously warming even the coldest of hearts. It’s simply brilliant.
While this is instalment #3.5 in the series, the events take place a couple of months before the start of book 1, Of Blood and Fire. Together with Aeson Virandr, we travel to the brutal and unforgiving lands of Valacia in search of a last ray of hope.
With no soul ever having returned from the icy wastelands, everyone knows this is a suicide mission from the start. But hope is stronger than fear, even when the cost of that hope will have to be paid in blood.
“We honour those we have lost by carrying on, by persevering.”
Now, if you’ve read Of Blood and Fire, you will already know the outcome of this story, yet that somehow doesn’t lower the stakes or tension in the slightest. I was glued to the page from start to finish, completely enthralled and with my heart racing from anticipatory dread. Even when I knew characters would make it out alive, I was still holding my breath and fearing for their lives, which just goes to show how masterful a storyteller Cahill is.
There’s something about the realistic way these characters are written that makes it impossible not to immediately latch onto them. Each and every single character has a complex personality and compelling backstory, which is exactly why they feel so human and alive. I love that at this point, I am not just reading about fictional characters anymore, but instead I feel like I come home to life-long friends when I open up a Bound and the Broken instalment.
“It’s all right. I know the pain. I know how it feels to carry the emptiness where your heart should be – how even silence becomes different, hollow. How the air catches in your chest every time you remember they’re gone. You need to talk about it, or it will consume you from the inside out.”
And because these characters are allowed to be so painfully flawed and human, the story only becomes more emotionally engaging. The themes of grief, loss, regret, and sacrifice are so tenderly and beautifully explored in this story, with some interactions between characters bringing actual tears to my eyes.
On top of that, the (found) family bonds are once again incredibly strong here, and I especially loved the authentic father/son dynamic as seen through Aeson’s eyes. This story has so much heart and soul, which is exactly why it hits so hard.
Don’t think that all of that strong character- and theme work comes at the cost of a well-paced plot or more incredible world building, though, because the opposite couldn’t be more true. The action scenes were pulse-pounding and I loved exploring a new part of this epic world while diving even deeper into the rich lore.
Also, I really enjoyed how this story almost feels like a horror/fantasy mash-up because of how well Cahill was able to capture the cold and eerie atmosphere of Valacia. There’s just this creeping sense of dread permeating every aspect of the story, and I absolutely loved that.
“You can’t lose yourself in the dead lest you lose the living as well.”
Needless to say, The Ice was everything I could have hoped for, and then so much more. When it comes to fantasy novellas, there are simply very few authors who write them as well as Ryan Cahill does. And there’s no need to rank the novellas in this series against each other, because they are all simply masterpieces in their own right.
With each new instalment, The Bound and the Broken series only establishes itself further as one of the best fantasy series ever being written. So, do yourself a favour and don’t miss out on this exciting journey full of compelling and endearing characters, heartfelt relationships, gripping action, rich lore, majestic mythical creatures, and, of course, some great emotional gut punches. This is epic character-driven fantasy at its very best!