Hammering Home the Thrills
By Dawn Ius
Basil Sands didn’t expect he’d be promoting three books this winter—but with the launch of his latest Ice Hammer novel, INVINCIBLE, his publisher leapt at the idea to re-release the first two books in the series as well. Obviously, Sands leapt at the chance to re-introduce readers to his page-turning thrillers, and the “hero” that kicked off the first book, Brad Stone.
As one would expect, Stone has gone through significant changes and faced chilling adversaries throughout the trilogy.
“Brad Stone went from being an overweight veteran with bad knees who worked as an IT manager for a government agency to becoming an extremely fit and capable leader of thousands of refugees and soldiers,” Sands says. “It took more than a year of extreme experiences, but in the end he was changed to a point of being barely recognizable to his wife of nearly three decades.”
In this latest extreme adventure—INVINCIBLE—Stone is back in Alaska. The war is in its third year—and no help is on the way. As Sands says, Stone has grown into the leader the troops need, but his younger brother, Ian, is a bloodthirsty monster—and the two are on a path toward an explosive family reunion. Ian is about to find out why his older sibling has earned the deadly moniker the Ice Hammer.
Sands isn’t being narcissistic when he admits that Stone is, in part, a slightly blurry mirror image of himself.
“I’m a former marine who was medically discharged, and worked for decades in the church, while building a career in IT,” he says. “Brad’s wife Youngmi and their sons Jay, Ben, and Ian are all based on my own real-life family as well. But they are not a screen capture of an ideal of my family in a novel, rather the characterizations were used as an emotional tool to force me to see things differently as I wrote.
“Rather than write about a fictional teenage Ben and Ian made from whole cloth in my mind, I took the image of the existing teenagers and tossed them into the most horrendous situations war has to offer—blood, terror, constant fear for one’s life—and I imagined how it might affect the real boys as very young combat veterans. I believe this approach to the creation of the story really helped me build deeply realistic traits in these fictional characters, whose strengths and weaknesses fall within the realm of believability, and emotional attachment with the reader.”
To add even more extreme to the “extreme,” Sands set this trilogy in Anchorage, Alaska, one of the coldest places on the planet. It’s where Sands is from—which is one of the reasons the series takes place there—but the location also provides a unique, atmospheric setting that is both dangerous and mysterious.
“Setting is more than a place,” Sands says. “It involves light and dark, textures, temperatures, scents, and colors. To clearly convey setting in as few words as possible is akin to leading a person into a room or a forest without talking. They will see, hear, smell, taste, and feel everything around them in a matter of seconds, and that will give them the context for everything they experience in the story. That is the sense of setting I wish to convey through my writing.”
While much of that came organically, having intimate experience with the state, Sands did need to do some research for this series. In his former role as an IT manager, he says he often ponders the “fragility of our technology-based world.” While exploring that theme, he discovered that “no city has more than two or three days of supplies for its inhabitants in the event of total cut-off.
“I was also somewhat surprised in my research to discover how quickly, and easily, most civilizations throughout history simply surrender to a conquering invader, no matter the amount of bluster and pride they felt before the event,” Sands says. “It was interesting how from the most ancient times until the present day, that although nations change hands, often violently, within days or weeks, day-to-day life in almost any civilization is almost instantly back to normal.”
Although the trilogy does what any good thriller would expect—help us to learn more about the world—this is not a slow-paced novel. The action is constant, with the built-in ebbs and flows that Sands says are a deliberate technique to keep those pages turning.
“One of the keys to writing page-turners is to never fully release the throttle,” he says. “Let the story slow up from time to time to give the reader a moment to catch their breath, but never let the vehicle come to a complete stop.”
There’s no chance of “stopping” for readers of the Ice Hammer series. Sands keeps the tension high from the chilling start of the trilogy to its explosive conclusion.
Well, conclusion may be too strong of a word.
“When I finished the trilogy, I left open a possibility of a follow-up series with some of the characters,” Sands says. “Although this being a war novel, many of the primary characters are no longer around by the end.”
In the meantime, Sands is at work on a new book—a medieval historical fiction called Blood of Princes. Set in the 1240s, it follows an Irish farmer on a pilgrimage with a Crusader army he hopes will release his family from a supposed curse.
And that’s not all.
“On a totally different track, I’m trying my hand at a new fantasy/comedy series about the leprechauns that live in my basement, titled The Brothers Four,” he says. “The first novel in that series is called Appetizers of the Gods.”