Only a very few books written each year for Young Adults are set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Howl of the Ice by Christian Raymond is the latest book for the YA audience and joins other recent titles in this class including Cady And The Birchbark Box by Ann Dallman, The Home Wind by Terri Martin, and A Second Home by David Curtis. Howl of the Ice may be unique in that it might be the only YA horror book that is set in the U.P. The book takes place pretty much in a single location: the ad-hoc ice shanty village on the fictional Blackbird Lake, an inland lake in a forgotten corner of the U.P. Blackbird Lake is just outside the tiny village of Hillson Falls. Single-location stories are a staple of horror fiction, if you consider for example the sterotypical haunted house tale as its main representative.
As is often the case in the horror genre, Howl of the Ice is a man vs. monster story at its core. Rather than leaning on traditional Anishinaabe folklore or Scandinavian folklore, Raymond invents a new set of elemental creatures born in ice. As you might expect, these creatures are hell-bent on destroying the humans in the shantytown above Blackbird Lake and probably have larger ambitions as well. Well, that’s as close of a spoiler as you’re going to hear about this book from me!
The two main protagonists are young teenagers, as you might expect in a YA audience book. Our hero is Falc, a fourteen-year-old boy who is drawn into the situation when he seeks out his Grandpa Rikkar, his boon companion. Rikkar is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and probably should not be driving, but he has taken his truck and towed out his ice shanty on to Lake Blackbird as the story opens.
Any lad who claims to be born in Michigan it seems must try a bit of “ice fishing” as a rite of passage. My own experience was with my uncle Bob who had a shanty on Lake Michigan just outside Mackinaw City. I remember the magical look of staring down the hole in the ice and its myriad reflections. Probably I remember better the delicious foil-wrapped ham and swiss sandwiches he toasted over the Coleman heater. Did we catch any fish? I don’t have any recollection either way. Regardless, both Christian Raymond and I both grew up in metro Detroit area with just a tantalizing taste of the U.P. in our youths.
Aiyanna Baikie is a beautiful Ojibwe girl about two year older than Falc. He probably has a little crush on her in the beginning of the story, but they must work together as a team to prevent the immediate deaths of Grandpa Rikka and Aiyanna’s father Dakotah Baikie. Together, they will brave the subfreezing waters of Lake Blackbird in their quest to save the residents of the ice-fishing shantytown over a single night that seems to go on forever.
Actually, you could say that the night does go on forever, by dint of the central story mechanic that the two teens must unravel: a multiverse situation has arisen under the ice of Lake Blackbird and the portals into each universe are holes in the ice below the shanties. This is a unique conceit in the winter horror genre and it makes almost anything possible.
Multiverses are all the rage with today’s popular films such as 2021’s unexpected smash hit Spiderman: No Way Home and 2022’s Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once. However the idea of a multiverse, literally “multiple universes”, is old as the ancient Greek philosophers. The idea took a startling new turn in 1952 when physicist Erwin Schrödinger suggested that these universes with different histories were not alternatives, but all really happen simultaneously. The idea is formally known as superposition and was almost immediately taken up in the science fiction and comic books of the 1950s and 1960s. As Jack Vance wrote in The Asutra (1974): “The basic law of the cosmos is this: in a situation of infinity, whatever exists in possibility exists in fact.”
When I questioned Christian Raymond about the inspiration and influences for his multiverse story, he said, “The story was greatly influenced by my father’s own Alzheimer’s-induced randomness in all its emotional nuance and complexity. He would have loved the audacity of such infused into a fast-paced survival tale set in the unlikely world of ice fishing.”
How of the Ice compares well to other recent adult U.P. horror books including Dead of November by Craig Brockman, The Biting Cold by Matthew Hellman, and A Yooper’s Tale: Death by Wendigo by Robert Hugh Williams. So if you are like me, an adult who reads YA books for a guilty pleasure, you might enjoy Raymond’s book as well. But it’s OK if you gift it to your teen or tween reader first!
If you like a fast-paced adventure/horror story that tests the mettle of young people to overcome seeming impossible odds on a frozen lake to save their loved ones, you’ll love Howl of the Ice by Christian Raymond. But be sure you put on some hot chocolate to curl up with this frenetically paced horror story.