Under A Pole Star by Stef Penney
Published by Quercus
Published 3 November 2016
I was given a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed it.
WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT
Flora Mackie was twelve when she first crossed the Arctic Circle on her father’s whaling ship. Now she is returning to the frozen seas as the head of her own exploration expedition. Jakob de Beyn was raised in Manhattan, but his yearning for new horizons leads him to the Arctic as part of a rival expedition. When he and Flora meet, all thoughts of science and exploration give way before a sudden, all-consuming love.
The affair survives the growing tensions between the two groups, but then, after one more glorious summer on the Greenland coast, Jakob joins his leader on an extended trip into the interior, with devastating results.
The stark beauty of the Arctic ocean, where pack ice can crush a ship like an eggshell, and the empty sweep of the tundra, alternately a snow-muffled wasteland and an unexpectedly gentle meadow, are vividly evoked. Against this backdrop Penney weaves an irresistible love story, a compelling look at the dark side of the golden age of exploration, and a mystery that Flora, returning one last time to the North Pole as an old woman, will finally lay to rest.
McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, 40” O’N, 74” 35” W
The aeroplane, a modified Douglas C-47 Skytrain, is a fat, shining cigar of aluminium, brilliant in the sun.
WHAT I THOUGHT
Under A Pole Star was okay to read but not a patch on Penney’s previous novels, The Tenderness of Wolves or The Invisible Ones. The novel is long granted but it has taken me much longer to read than it should have. Ultimately, it is far too long and the ‘epic’ love story between Flora and Jakob isn’t enough to last out over 600 pages. There is some good stuff here. I enjoyed reading about Flora’s life and the stir she made as a female explorer. I enjoyed reading about life among the Inuit people which was quite fascinating at times. I didn’t think Jakob was a great character, he is dull as dish-water at times and certainly not my idea of a romantic lead. The descriptions of the places Flora sees during her exhibitions are well-written and interesting. The main issue I had is that Under A Pole Star is tedious at times and drags on a bit. Flora and Jakob’s love affair is never epic or interesting enough to be the driving force of the novel. Huge chunks of the book could easily have been cut. Under A Pole Star would have worked much better if it focused on Flora as an explorer, the first woman to do it because as an epic love story it misses the mark a little.