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The Age of Ice

A Novel

About The Book

An epic debut novel about a lovelorn eighteenth-century Russian noble, cursed with longevity and an immunity to cold, whose quest for the truth behind his condition spans two thrilling centuries and a stunning array of historical events.

The Empress Anna Ioannovna has issued her latest eccentric order: construct a palace out of ice blocks. Inside its walls her slaves build a wedding chamber, a canopy bed on a dais, heavy drapes cascading to the floor—all made of ice. Sealed inside are a disgraced nobleman and a deformed female jester. On the empress’s command—for her entertainment—these two are to be married, the relationship consummated inside this frozen prison. In the morning, guards enter to find them half-dead. Nine months later, two boys are born.

Surrounded by servants and animals, Prince Alexander Velitzyn and his twin brother, Andrei, have an idyllic childhood on the family’s large country estate. But as they approach manhood, stark differences coalesce. Andrei is daring and ambitious; Alexander is tentative and adrift. One frigid winter night on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow, as he flees his army post, Alexander comes to a horrifying revelation: his body is immune to cold.

J. M. Sidorova’s boldly original and genrebending novel takes readers from the grisly fields of the Napoleonic Wars to the blazing heat of Afghanistan, from the outer reaches of Siberia to the cacophonous streets of nineteenth-century Paris. The adventures of its protagonist, Prince Alexander Velitzyn—on a lifelong quest for the truth behind his strange physiology—will span three continents and two centuries and bring him into contact with an incredible range of real historical figures, from Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, to the licentious Russian empress Elizaveta and Arctic explorer Joseph Billings.

The Age of Ice is one of the most enchanting and inventive debut novels of the year.

About The Author

Photograph by Stephanie Skeffington

J.M. Sidorova was born in Moscow when it was the capital of the USSR, to the family of an official of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. She attended Moscow State University and the graduate school of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1990 and works as a research professor at the University of Washington, where she studies cellular biology of aging and carcinogenesis.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (July 23, 2013)
  • Length: 416 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451692730

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Raves and Reviews

"Jeweled with the kind of narrative intricacies and heights of fancy that transform a good story into a sensory glut, in this mesmerizing debut, Sidorova reduces you to a primal state of readership, casting you into darkness so vast that you have no choice but to press on and discover what about it feels so familiar. The Age of Ice rekindles every far-flung childhood memory you have of what it means to experience a great book."

– Téa Obreht, New York Times-bestselling author of The Tiger's Wife

"In this marvelous first novel, J.M. Sidorova combines the various properties of ice--its grotesque mutations, its flaws and cracks, its rotting swells, its bitter and consoling beauty--and builds them layer by layer into a metaphor for the emotional and political forces that encase us and the world. Ice binds the characters and shatters them apart, and the far reaches of the novel--Siberia, St. Petersburg, Paris, Herat, Calcutta, and New York over hundreds of years--are spanned as if by bridges of ice. Sidorova has created a tale at once familiar and foreign, thawed out of history and yet still fresh.”

– Paul Park, author of A Princess of Roumania and Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance

“It is rare, but sometimes a book wanders in from the cold, sweeps you off your feet, and kicks you in the face… The Age of Ice is a wonderful, impressive, and satisfying novel. Calling it the best epic fantasy novel that I have read in years is hyperbolic, but not far from the mark. This novel has plenty of appeal for readers on either side of the genre-literary divide.”

– James Oliver, Lazy Bastard Press

"The Age of Ice is an incredible journey, in all senses of the word."

– Annie Smith, Summer Reading Project

The Age of Ice is a big book--big in ambition and big in achievement. From magical opening to lyrical close, Sidorova moves with ease and authority across the globe and through the centuries. The writing is crystalline and the adventure never ends. Everything you could want in a novel.”

– Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

“Packed with incident large and small, and alive with rich, memorable characters, J.M. Sidorova’s novel is a lush, lyrical saga about science and pseudoscience, history and fantasy, love and war—and cold weather. You won’t read this novel; you’ll surrender to it.”

– Karl Iagnemma, author of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction and Principal Investigator, Robotic Mobility Group, MIT

"I'm in awe. The Age of Ice is a luminous vision, a waking dream, utterly delicious. Sidorova is the best new writer I’ve come across in years."

– Rudy Rucker, author of The Ware Tetralogy

"If you are going to read this book (and I recommend that you do) take some time away from life. Find a quiet place, and devote your mind to the story. It will consume you, amaze you and remind you that there are authors out there who use common words to create uncommon magic."

– Ionia Martin, Readful Things Blog

"Sidorova’s imaginative and densely detailed first novel mingles historical and speculative fiction.... Characters, real and fictional, and [Alexander's] continual yearning for connections enrich the tale with depth and meaning."

– Booklist

"Sidorova’s lyrical prose complements her protagonist’s fantastical tale of isolation on his mythic journey."

– Publishers Weekly

“Arresting… Influenced by writers Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, Sidorova incorporates science fiction and magical realism into her historical tales.”

– Seattle magazine

“Just beautiful… A very special read… with a bit of magic and a lot of gorgeous prose.”

– Ann Kingman, “Books on the Nightstand” podcast

"Evocative... [Sidorova's] detailed, compelling prose lingers on the brain."

– Denver Post

“Ambitious … An impressive debut by a writer who draws her own magic from some of the darker, and colder, chapters of Russia's complex history."

– Elizabeth Hand, Los Angeles Times

“Velitzyn is an appealing character: handsome, shy, passionate yet reflective…. Knowledge, affection and skill combine to draw readers in and drive them forward through frozen steppe and burgeoning city, through trading post, fortress, intrigue-riddled embassy, sweltering prison and all the myriad settings in this eccentric jewel of a novel."

– Nisi Shawl, Seattle Times

"Exceptional prose.... Amazing."

– Tulsa World

"Deftly written.... With its classical style and superior character development, the novel draws the reader into a world of intrigue and suspense... There are few novels that have caught my imagination like this one."


"Alexander’s sharp observations – and the author’s ability to plunge him into the thick of things, fraught with emotions far more intense than ennui – display a remarkable power."

– Locus

“The chief glory of this book has nothing whatsoever to do with how much it does or does not adhere to genre boundaries. The real delight in reading this novel is the language. It is rich and vivid, full of unexpected descriptions that turn out to be just right… It is, in short, beautiful… An affecting love story, a stirring war novel, a novel of scientific endeavor, a tale of exploration, a tragedy…. A superb debut.”

– Paul Kincaid, Strange Horizons

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