Carmilla Voiez writes about her life, depression, Drac in a Box Gothic Clothing, LGBTQ+, feminism, Horror Fiction, Book reviews, Horror novels, Scotland, UK, creative writing, free short stories, writing prompts, writer workshops, indie author advice.


The Ice Plague: Tim Lees

The Ice Plague: Tim Lees

a book review

The Ice Plague is a collection of 18 short stories. The only noticeable through-theme, at least to me, is the melancholy of humanity. In many ways, it might be a fictionalised illustration of Arthur Schopenhauer’s argument that:

“the world is Hell, and men are on the one hand the tormented souls and on the other the devils in it.”

Or – to be an animal burdened with self-awareness is a cruel and vicious mistake.

The back cover blurb compares Tim Lee’s fiction to some amazing writers, one of whom is Kafka, and I can understand why, but the collection gave me Thomas Ligotti and Giorgio de Maria vibes. The stories are strange without oozing across the border into surrealism; they are masculine without straying into misogyny; and they are thoughtful and frequently profound. Lee’s endings don’t tie up the stories’ strands into neat bows; they are left open in ways that continue to haunt the reader.

The stories are clever, disturbing, and deeply philosophical. If you want jump scares and simple entertainment, you will not find such things here. But if you want ideas that will linger at the periphery of your thoughts and cause you to question the plight of mankind, then dive in. It may not always be a comfortable ride, but there’s fascinating scenery enroute.

The first story shares its title with the collection, The Ice Plague. It might be a metaphor for dementia; sufferers of the plague lose their sense of self as well as their memories. The plague threatens an extinction event, terrifying those who have not yet succumbed:

“On carts, on stretchers, we take them for their tests, their transfers and procedures; from ward to ward as different symptoms manifest, different doctors pick out different patterns to their illness, different theories come and go, and different treatments are proposed.”

Lee’s skilful handling of repetition creates an evocative rhythm, transporting us into the hospital. We can hear the wheels trundling along corridors, feel the confusion of doctors, the desperation – not an urgent panic, but a slow, inexorable march that leads only to exhaustion - as one idea is discarded in favour of another. Yet the will to survive remains even as hope crumbles.

In The Plain academics and professors become increasingly bestial in their habits as intellect gives way to primal instinct. The narrator’s theory as to why this is happening is a fascinating piece of dialogue:

“[E]volution, it’s a personal event, for each of us. Yes? We start off as a single cell – two single cells – and we get more advanced, more complex […] It took our ancestors a billion years, but now, we do it all in nine months. Then try to hang on at the top as long as possible. But… perhaps we’ve not been trying hard enough? Perhaps we’ve lost our grip…?”

I cannot praise this collection too highly. There isn’t a single weak story – each one is equally bleak and disturbing. A chilling treasure trove.  

Cover with woman in black dress and man wearing a bull mask.

No comments yet