Book review: Under A Pole Star

Stef PenneyIn 1883, twelve-year-old Flora Mackie is taken by her father, captain of the Vega, a whaling ship, to the Arctic. She returns to the Arctic as a young woman, a meteorologist, heading her own expedition. ‘Under a Pole Star’ by Stef Penney is Flora’s story and that of the troubled 1891 Armitage-de Beyn expedition to Greenland.

The story starts in 1948 as an American group leaves New Jersey, the purpose unclear. Onboard the plane are scientists, air force men, a television crew, a journalist, and Flora Mackie. The Snow Queen. What unfolds is the story of the two rival expeditions: the British, told by Flora, and the American, told by Jakob de Beyn, geologist with the Armitage party. It is quite a while before there is even a hint of what the controversy may be. Until then, we follow the lives of Flora in Dundee and London, and Jakob in New York, as they grow from children to adults. Finally the separate Greenland expeditions set off, unaware of each other. When Flora and Jake meet in Greenland in 1892 there is a spark between them. At this point I was unsure what the book was about – Arctic exploration, romance, a thriller?

Penney’s writing about the Arctic makes me want to go there. The ice, the light, the endless horizon. But this is not just a story of women crossing boundaries at the end of the 19th century, it is a mystery with claim and counter-claim from rival explorers. Ultimately, this is a story of what men, and women, will do to be the first to their goal.

A fascinating story which moves slowly at times with some things left unexplained. It makes me want to read more of Penney’s books, but I was left with the feeling that the story could be tighter with a stronger spine of mystery.

If you like ‘Under A Pole Star’, try these other novels about snow and ice:-
‘The Surfacing’ by Cormac James
‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver
‘The Golden Compass’ by Philip Pullman

‘Under A Pole Star’ by Stef Penney [UK: Quercus] Buy at Amazon

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