This is actually rather good. I'd never have read it after the pitiful first book in this series if they hadn't both been Christmas presents, and nearly didn't read it anyway, but somewhere between volumes one and four of Canopus in Argos, the author has got the hang of it.
There's still nothing you'd call 'science fiction', it's more 'magic realism with occasional mention of spaceships'. And anyone with even A-level physics is going to have to ignore a certain amount of unlikeliness. But plenty of good books fit that description. And this is one.
It's a painful, suffocating story of a happy world being slowly entombed in ice.
The pompous smug emissary Johor is a key figure. But here he's a constant beacon of hope. His presence makes the whole story much worse. The ending is a beautifully cynical betrayal.
As a bonus "afterword", there's an excellent and thought provoking essay on Scott's doomed expedition to the Arctic.
It makes me wonder whether vols 2 and 3 might be worth reading too. And why I had such a bad reaction to vol 1.
Apparently this book was made into an opera. I can just imagine. I bet there aren't too many tunes you'd find yourself whistling.