The Secret Ministry of Frost – Nick Lake

Title: The Secret Ministry of Frost
Author: Nick Lake
Series : No, this is a stand alone book


In Short: Light is in terrible danger.  Her father, an Arctic explorer is missing, presumed dead.  She is being stalked by strange creatures straight out of Inuit legend.  Butler, her friend and protector, is hiding something from her.  She sets off on a journey to the Arctic, to discover the truth about her father and her own past.


What I thought:
I feel very ambivalent about this book.  Some bits I loved.  Other bits (mostly in the last half) were not so great.

It is beautifully illustrated by Liane Payne.  Here is the cover:


Each chapter has a little iconic being that reminds me of traditional Inuit art:


The story starts well. Light is an interesting character.   She is a half Inuit albino,  living in her father’s mansion in Ireland.  She is an eccentric loner, half stubborn and half scared.  Her father has been declared “missing, presumed dead” while in the Arctic on a scientific expedition .  I could not help comparing her to some very similar female heroines – Lyra Silvertongue, who  lost her father in the Northern Ice, and Garth Nix’s Sabriel, who sets out to save her father from the icy grip of Death.

Light’s initial reaction to the fantastical creatures from her father’s past is very convincing.   Her mixture of fear and disbelief are just what I would expect to feel when suddenly confronted by a talking crow, or a man with a shark’s head.  This makes her more believable than Lyra or Sabriel, both of whom are rather intimidatingly brave.

Here is a conversation between her and Tupilak – the shark-head man.  Light is asking Tupilak what he ate on his journey across the sea:

“Sea Creatures”  said Tupilak.
“Sea Creatures? Like what? Fish?”
“Fish yes.  Some squid.  A dolphin”
“You ate a dolphin?” Light asked, shocked. “How could you?”
“Well, it wasn’t easy.  I had to tear out its throat.  Then I ate its fins.  But the body was very heavy.”


I also liked Nick Lake’s way with metaphor.  When Light does not want to think about her father’s blog after he goes missing “the memory seemed to have grown thorns, and she could no longer touch it”.

Or Light’s thoughts as she journeys in the Arctic:

“Here on the ice cap she felt like a flea on the back of a polar bear. And at any moment the bear could choose to scratch”

There are many odd little philosophical moments.  On board a ship in a pitching sea, Light watches the water in her glass moving in concert with the water outside with increasing unease.

“It was as though all the water in the world  – though separated into seas and water glasses and rivers – wanted only to be together and still thought with one mind.”

Some don’t work so well for me, but still resonate:

“In the Arctic, though, the beauty of snow is underpinned by deadly danger – in the same way that a beautiful bunch of flowers becomes something more terrible and more devastating when you see it propped against a lamp post at the side of a busy road, with a note pinned to it.”


This book does not live up to its initial promise.  I loved the characters, but did not get to know them.  The last half degenerates into your standard series of Hollywood fight scenes complete with clever quips and improbable timing.

Maybe I am judging unfairly as I simply don’t like horror.  There is a lot of gratuitous eyeball plucking and evisceration, and after a certain amount of this I stopped caring so much about the characters involved.  Unlike the horror in, for example, Garth Nix’s stories, that can get pretty visceral, these incidents were just grossly “yuck” rather than heightening the drama.

My main problem was with the villain – the evil Frost.  He is set up beautifully: a frightening, mysterious force that is so terrible that he does not even have a name in Inuit legend.  But when he finally arrives on the scene he is disappointingly human – a character from a Gothic computer game rather than the embodiment of a force of nature.

There is a lot of potential here.  The true enemy – the bitter landscape of the Arctic – is vividly portrayed. The story tries to explore a fascinating ideas  of grief and fear, compassion and weakness.  I wonder to what extent those ideas were smothered by an attempt to create a more conventional story of wham-bam adventure.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. GeraniumCat
    Jun 29, 2009 @ 12:07:30

    This sounds like a very interesting book that doesn’t quite work. If I come across a copy I might read it, though – I love the illustrations.

  2. mashadutoit
    Jun 29, 2009 @ 12:36:00

    That’s exactly right. Its worth reading, but I felt that while it built up really well, it did not really pay off. I think this is Nick Lake’s first book. His next one is called “Blood Ninja” and is co-authored, if I’m not mistaken. That’s one of my prejudices. I’m immediately suspicious of books with two authors…

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