Planet of Blood and Ice: A teen sci-fi horror thriller that wants to be a movie

Planet of Blood and Ice by A.J. Hartley YA fantasy book reviewsPlanet of Blood and Ice by A.J. HartleyPlanet of Blood and Ice by A.J. Hartley

Planet of Blood and Ice (2017) is the first book in A.J. Hartley’s CATHEDRALS OF GLASS series for teens. Hartley is billing this story as Alien meets Lord of the Flies, and I’d say that description is fairly accurate since Planet of Blood and Ice is about a group of teens who must overcome the dangers of a hostile alien environment while struggling to live with each other in a safe and civilized fashion.

The story starts as a spaceship containing ten teenagers crash-lands on an icy planet (here is some concept art.) The kids are juvenile delinquents who had been on their way to a nearby planet for a week of remedial camp. So much for that. Now they’re stuck on a freezing cold planet with no way off and only a limited supply of protein bars. And did I mention that they’re all juvenile delinquents? Not the best situation.

You’d think that would be bad enough but the snowy ground outside hides razor-sharp veins of ice that can flay a person to the bone and there’s at least one huge man-eating saber-toothed tiger on the planet. (Not sure what he normally eats when there are no juvies around.) But wait, there’s more. There seems to be a creepy little girl in a nightgown sneaking around outside their incapacitated ship and she didn’t arrive with them. And then there are the weird tattoos that suggest these kids were linked in some way before they left their home planet. As the story progresses, the kids start to question all they’ve been taught.

This is the set up for a fast-paced pulse-pounding adventure that never lets up. Planet of Blood and Ice story is scary, gruesome, suspenseful, and disturbing with a few bright patches as some of the teens, who have previously had very little contact with people outside their family (due to their society’s strange social mores) learn to trust and maybe even like each other.

The tension and suspense is ratcheted up to ten nearly the whole time, making the story feel frantic at times and giving the impression that it was written with a movie option in mind. Characterization suffers because of this. The teens feel like types (this is the pretty girl, this is the boy who writes poetry, this is the girl who likes to roam free, etc.) and I kept getting about half of them mixed up with each other in my mind. I got the sense that the individual characters weren’t too important beyond what they contributed to the plot’s movement, which is fine if you’re looking for that kind of story.

I also found it difficult to believe in the dystopian society that these teens came from. People mostly isolate themselves from others outside their families, only meeting and socializing through the government-controlled internet. (One wonders why “deviant” teens would be sent to a camp together on another planet rather than just re-educated via the internet, like they do everything else.) Most live lives of leisure, don’t learn any skills, don’t have pets, and are taught that touching others or eating unprocessed food is disgusting. The idea is that humans have evolved past their animal instincts and that thinking about the body, working the body, sharing lives with animals, or eating like animals, or even eating for pleasure, is uncivilized. Life is comfortable and their government makes all decisions for them. When they get to the ice planet, they find it difficult to remain “civilized.”

I had a hard time believing in the society Hartley created (though it has a couple of obvious parallels to our own), or caring about his characters, and I felt like there were too many things going on at too rapid a pace, but I have to admit that the entire time I was reading Planet of Blood and Ice, I was on the edge of my seat. There are some great (made-for-movie) scenes in the novel and the climactic scene near the end was especially awesome. Maybe it would have even choked me up if I’d cared at all about the characters. I think I will check out the next CATHEDRALS OF GLASS novel to see where Hartley goes with this. With some deft storytelling, I could be made to believe in his world and maybe even like his heroes.

The 10.5-hour-long audio version I listened to was produced by Tantor Audio and narrated by Emily Woo Zeller. She’s really good with both the male and female voices and her “frantic” voice was suitably intense for this story.

Published February 21, 2017 (audio May 16, 2017). Ten teenagers broke behavioral law. Sentenced to be reeducated on the moon of Jerem, they were placed in stasis on the automated ship Phetteron for their six day journey. They never reached their destination. Thrown off course by a computer malfunction, the Phetteron is damaged in an asteroid belt and crash lands on the uninhabited ice planet of Valkrys. Having spent their lives in temperature controlled environments, consuming nutrient supplements, and interacting with people mostly through the infonet, the teens are unprepared to depend on each other to face the harsh, hostile, and hellish landscape. Home will send a rescue party long before their meager supplies run out. Sola was a roamer. She wandered the city after curfew, reveling in the freedom of being disconnected from the techgrid and embracing the joy of physical activity. For those actions, Home declared her deviant. But on Valkrys, her deviance is an asset that may be the teens’ only hope for survival. As Sola explores their strange new world, she discovers that she and her shipmates are linked by something more frightening than their subversive behaviors-and uncovers a truth about the planet the authorities at Home wanted buried.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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5 comments

  1. It really does sound like a movie! Based on your description, the world they come from doesn’t convince me, but I guess part of the point is that coming from an isolated, self-involved culture makes learning to work together both a challenge and the lesson of the book.

    I always wonder about the person who “stowed away” on a space ship. Shouldn’t security be tighter? I mean, it’s not easy to stow away on an airplane, is it? And don’t you have oxygen concerns on a spacecraft?

    • Not only do you have oxygen concerns, but the extra weight of a stowaway would do all kinds of wonky things to fuel efficiency and food stores. I wish more authors would consider that!

      • Yes, where are those nasty Cold Equations when we want them?

        I suppose we can always assume they overestimate and over-provision to allow for accidents, etc.

        • Indeed!

          Kim Stanley Robinson does a good job of working around the stowaway/food problem in Red Mars–the ship carrying passengers from Earth to Mars has a greenhouse in addition to food stores, so there you go–but too many authors write about space voyages like they’re ocean voyages, and they are not at all the same.

  2. In this case, the person was not a stowaway. (Also, the person was very small and the teens on the ship were in stasis, so I think a stowaway COULD have worked, but that wasn’t the case here.)

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