Surely one of the reasons why the 'Icerigger' series ended as a trilogy is a growing realisation that the remaining lead characters really need to leave Tran-ky-ky at some point. There were five human heroes (plus one villain) in the first book, but that dropped to three for the second and two of those do plan to leave at the start of this third, having been on this ice planet for a couple of years now.
Needless to say, it doesn't work out that way. Ethan Fortune calls his boss at the House of Malaika to see if he still has a job, is transferred through to the man at the top, Maxim Malaika, and ends up being promoted to run the new trading station on Tran-ky-ky that he'll put together. Skua September is booked on the next shuttle out, so he can belatedly accept the invitation of an archaeologist friend to work on Alaspin, but then the story shows up and his guilt has him stay behind again to help out.
That story is sparked by a strange discovery by scientists at Brass Monkey: a warm spot in the southern hemisphere that a) shouldn't be there to begin with, b) isn't explainable using the tools at their disposal and c) appears to be growing. They want to mount an expedition on the Slanderscree, as the fastest and most travelled vessel on the planet, and Milliken Williams wants them to join him on that mission.
So, of course, they do and, after experiencing a number of adventures on the way, reach the warm spot and uncover a dastardly plot in the process that is in dire need of ending. I wouldn't spoil what that plot turns out to be, but the back cover blurb on the paperback does a grand job of it so I guess it's no secret. This warm spot is being deliberately generated to substantially raise the temperature of Tran-ky-ky and it's already turned some of the ice to water, or what the natives describe as "ice corpse". Hey, it makes sense!
This novel is an opportunity for Alan Dean Foster to take care of things on a number of levels. He provides one more opportunity for our heroes to save the day, while continuing to elevate the roles of the local Tran population. He explores another part of the planet that we (and the Tran we've met thus far) haven't visited before. He progresses the peaceful union between cities that will lead to membership in the Commonwealth, updating us on particular locations we've previously visited, like Poylavomaar where T'hosjer T'hos is the new landgrave, having deposed the old dictator.
And, of course, he introduces us to more of the local flora and fauna. There are some fascinating creatures in store for us this time, as we might expect from Foster. Flocks of snigaraka swoop down to attack the Slanderscree: two-metre-long flying creatures with two tails and horny plated jaws. Dyella are twenty-metre-long pink snakes who slide along the ice by secreting slime and steer with sails on its back. They hunt achivar, which are piglike creatures who don't fly but glide with the aid of the ever-present wind.
Most dangerous of all is the shan-kossief which holds up the Slanderscree in a tense dedicated section. We've already seen kossief, as one grabbed Ethan and almost dragged him under the ice in the last book, but the prefix "shan" means "big", "huge" or "too-vast-to-be-imagined", depending on usage, and a shan-kossief is immense. It tries to grab the entire ship to drag under the ice and it does a pretty good job of it before the crew figure out a way out of the predicament.
For at least two-thirds of the book, this is yet another ripping yarn of an adventure, a worthy successor to the first two books with the danger ramped up even further and the stakes as high as they get on an ice planet. Then it starts to fade a little. There's some really slack writing late on to allow a particular escape to happen and to resolve a subplot featuring a promising character called Grurwelk Seesfar who we'd frankly almost forgotten about.
I think Foster was enjoying himself too much by that point, because he'd hit a viable page count and hadn't wrapped anything up yet. Therefore the novel wraps up far too quickly, even if it does so with a strong, if expected, set of endings to not only this book but the trilogy as a whole. And yes, while 'The Deluge Drivers' puts a firm end to our fantastic adventures on Tran-ky-ky, there's no reason why Foster can't return to it at some point if he ever feels the need.
In fact, I remember reading the planet's name elsewhere, presumably in some of the Pip & Flinx books and I looked up a couple of possibilities to find a few more that I didn't expect. The big boss at the House of Malaika, Ethan's company, is Maxim Malaika, based on Moth, and yes, that was him in 'The Tar-Aiym Krang', on the mission with Pip and Flinx.
Skua September plans to travel to Alaspin at the invitation of Isili Hasboga and I believe we met her there in one of the other early Pip & Flinx books. September is apparently in both 'For Love of Mother-Not', where he's outbid for Flinx by Mother Mastiff and 'The End of the Matter', though I don't have memories of him in either. The major events in his past that are hinted at throughout this trilogy may be explored in 'The Emoman', a short story from 1972 that was collected into 'With Friends Like These...' Clearly, I should check that out before moving on.
And, with this trilogy wrapped up, next month's Foster for me will be 'The Howling Stones', a 1997 standalone novel which pits the Commonwealth against the AAnn on a new planet, Senisran. See you then! ~~ Hal C F Astell
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