The Secret Ministry of Frost by Nick Lake
This novel for older children of about eleven upwards was our book group choice for May/June. As a group, we haven’t read a novel aimed primarily at a younger audience since the penultimate Harry Potter, (as opposed to adult books that are great for younger readers too). One of our number knows the author of this debut novel, so we were more than happy to help his royalties by shifting a few copies and expressing our opinions.
This is a tale of an albino girl called ‘Light’, who is half Inuit, half Irish. She lives in a large Manor in Ireland with just the family retainer, called ‘Butler’. Her Inuit mother died some years ago and her father has mysteriously disappeared on one of his expeditions to the Arctic, presumed dead. After the funeral, she begins to wonder what it was her father loved about the Arctic and Inuit traditions. Then things start to happen, creatures from the North appear and a shark-headed man ‘Tupilak’ also arrives to take care of them. Light is convinced that her father is alive, and has been kidnapped by Frost, the king of the cold. She has to go North and sort things out, and a terrifying adventure awaits her in the kingdom of ice…
We all agreed that this novel was great fun, and once things took off, it was surprisingly bloodthirsty! The author has successfully combined Inuit folklore with the more English version (though probably of Viking origin) of Jack Frost and set it all firmly in the present. The main characters are great – Tupilak, the shark-man with the legs of a polar bear is a fierce avenging monster; Butler with his moving tattoos is strong and enigmatic; and Light is an intriguing heroine, but not much is made of her being albino – it’s just the way she is, and all will be explained later of course.
The title comes from the poem ‘Frost at Midnight‘ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which opens – “The frost performs its secret ministry, Unhelped by any wind.”, and reading that poem with hindsight, it has obviously been a strong inspiration for the novel, as has The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. The cover is great too – sprinkled with white prismatic shards of ice which don’t show up here; inside the chapters are headed with great little illustrations like Tupilak on the cover making for a well designed book that will be attractive to its main targets. I hope there’s more to come from this new author. (8/10)