Review — The Ice Lion by Kathleen O’Neal Gear

Sabre Tooth Tiger in a snow-covered, Seattle in ruins The Ice Lion
By: Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Release Date: June 15, 2021
Publisher: DAW Books
Series: Rewilding Reports #1

Author and archaeologist Kathleen O’Neal Gear has written several books, including multiple series. Her latest novel, and the start to a fresh series, is The Ice Lion, a novel set on a future earth that has suffered an apocalyptic event. With the world having returned to an ice-age state, people live as they did in the far past, and creatures long extinct in our time freely roam the land.

The story follows two characters. Lynx is a sixteen-year-old who isn’t quite as brave as his fellows believe he should be, though his best friend Quiller is quite the skilled hunter. They belong to the Sealion People and are Denisovan, an ancient branch of humanity. Changing times throw these two characters in different directions, and Lynx meets an elderly man who tells him that the only way to truly save the world is find the last of their gods, the quantum computer Quancee.   

This book is a convergence of the history of the last ice age, climate fiction, and the struggle to rebuild society after a post-apocalyptic event. Incredibly intriguing ideas are cast here, and readers will quickly pick up on the fact that this world is built upon the ruins of our own modern society, though the majority of characters remain ignorant of this. However, the strength of the premise doesn’t quite follow through to the actual execution of the novel.

The society that Lynx and Quiller live in simply isn’t believable. When a member of the Sealions does wrong or is considered too weak or cowardly, they are either banished or sent on some kind of quest they are unlikely to return from. Simply put, this is completely unrealistic from a narrative perspective when all hands are needed to simply survive day to day. The majority of the Sealions’ time is spent warring with other peoples in the area. This is an especially odd choice from an author with a background in archaeology, as, historically speaking, this happened extremely infrequently in Stone Age society.

The full extent of the Denisovan characters’ past interaction with our modern society, if there had been any at all, isn’t fully known yet. Therefore, all readers can assume is what is in this novel—that there wasn’t any interaction between modern society and these ice age survivors. This makes constant warfare unrealistic, especially when it would take all of your time and energy to survive. The fact that the society is also very patriarchal additionally strikes an odd note. The majority of these people’s rules, culture, and habits seem completely counterintuitive, and for no narrative purpose, making it more of an oversight than an author’s decision.

Dialogue is often stilted as well, and characters are, by and large, one-note.

The book comes to life in its nature descriptions, however. The physical setting is detailed, with long, beautiful passages on the icy, windswept landscape and unforgiving sea. However, this alone may not be enough to keep all readers engaged.

Despite having an incredibly intriguing premise, The Ice Lions doesn’t quite follow through in execution, a true shame as O’Neal Gear has proven her writing prowess in prior novels. Perhaps the second novel in the Rewilding Reports series will avoid the same pitfalls and explain oddities in the narrative structure.

About author

Kathleen Townsend

Kate writes things, reads things, and writes about things she reads. She’s had a few short stories published, and works as a freelance editor. Favorite genres include epic & high fantasy, science fiction, time travel stories, video game related tales, light novels, and manga.

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