Books: Icebound

This was a reasonably enjoyable book, but not what I have come to expect of Dean Koontz. Not far into the book, I began to suspect it was one of his earlier works, even though it was a title I had not seen before on our library’s shelves. Looking it up on amazon.com, I was surprised to see that it was released in 2000. But reading through the customer comments, I discovered the explanation – Koontz wrote it over three decades ago, and originally released it under a pseudonym.

He did rework the novel some before releasing under a new title and his own name, but it is quite different from his more recent work. There is no paranormal element, and there is less delving into the psychology of his characters. His descriptive passages, while painting a detailed picture, lack the remarkable turns of phrase that I usually enjoy in his books. But the biggest difference is that the primary threat comes not from evil but from nature.

I learned in some long-ago English class that every good story has to have conflict, and that conflict is one of three basic types: man against nature, man against man, or man against himself. Naturally some stories combine more than one of these elements, but one is generally primary. For me, man against nature stories are interesting, but not nearly as gripping as man against man or man against himself. (One of my favorite books as a young person was James Ramsey Ullman’s Banner in the Sky, which included all three types of conflict, but it was the protagonist’s struggle within himself that most affected me.)

There is some interpersonal conflict in Icebound, and some characters do struggle with past losses they have not fully recovered from. Somewhere in the middle of the book, an element of evil is also revealed, but it felt to me like an afterthought. It could easily have been entirely removed from the book without great damage to the plot.

It was interesting to read through the readers’ comments on amazon.com, as they vary so widely. Many long-time fans of Koontz were, like me, disappointed in this novel. Other readers, who don’t particularly care for his more typical books with their psychotic killers and supernatural elements, highly praised this book. And a few enthusiastic Koontz fans commented that it was different – but still very good.

I’m with those who did not find the efforts at suspense very effective. Except for the scene leading up to the climax, I didn’t find it particularly suspenseful at all. Once the initial setup for disaster is in place, and time is running out, it seems to run out pretty slowly. How many times do I need to be reminded how bleak the Arctic is, how cold the air and water are, how unstoppable the buried time bombs are? Repetition of the elements of danger does not make it feel more dangerous; if anything, the repetition dulls the effect.

But Koontz is still a good enough storyteller that I did want to hear the story, and enjoyed it. For people with more interest in the adventure aspects than the psychological aspects, it’s probably a great book. But for me – I was happy to find the latest Koontz book about Odd Thomas (who can see dead people) in paperback at WalMart tonight.

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