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by Ali Shaw

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9114-4
Publisher: Henry Holt

Emotional entanglements on a faraway frozen island are shaped by romance and tragedy in a melancholic yet whimsical British debut.

Albino crows, ice, gray vistas and an animal that can turn living things white all accentuate the monochrome palette Shaw uses to paint his imaginary landscape, the snowy archipelago of St. Hauda’s Land, and to characterize the people who live there—fragile, isolated or abandoned. Ida Maclaird, slowly turning to glass from the feet up, has returned to St. Hauda’s to find Henry Fuwa, a scientist she believes can help with her strange condition. While on the island, she’s living in the cottage of Carl Maulsen, who loved but lost Ida’s mother. A clandestine love affair also shadowed the parents of Midas Crook, whose mother was Henry’s lover. Shy, inexperienced Midas is trying to live a life completely unlike that of his suicidal father, and when he meets Ida he slowly opens up to his feelings for her. Together they visit Henry, whose weird science includes a less-than-encouraging evaluation of Ida’s ailment: It’s both fast-moving and incurable. Although kept apart by Carl and various plot delays, Ida and Midas eventually become lovers, but little time remains, and both must confront their deepest fears as Shaw winds his tale toward a magical final scene and a more prosaic epilogue.

At its best, this strikingly visual novel shrugs off self-consciousness and a sense of strain to become captivatingly ethereal.