Snowy landscapes in the era of exploration obviously fascinate Stef Penney. She drew an incredible picture of trudging across the snowy Canadian plains in THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES, so much so that when I saw that she had written another ice epic I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. The action in UNDER A POLE STAR takes place on the Greenland coast this time, with bits in New York and London and mainly firmly in the back half of the nineteenth century with some flash forwards to 1948.
Flora Mackie is the daughter of a Scottish whaling ship captain and when her mother dies, instead of leaving her in the care of relatives, he takes her with him to Greenland. She loves the icy landscape so much that she is determined to return when she grows up, not such an easy task for a Victorian woman. Jakob de Beyn is an orphan, at least he thinks he’s an orphan, brought up by strict and not particularly caring relatives. One thing leads to another and he finds himself on an expedition to Greenland (as you do). Stef Penney is very good at using all the facts that she casually introduces. You think that that childhood incident is just a nice vignette: think again as in about 500 pages it will have profound consequences. Indeed those flash forwards kept on annoying me, there didn’t seem to be any point to them, until right at the very end of the book, suddenly everything became clear.
At its heart, UNDER A POLE STAR is a love story between two people and also between the people and the landscape. Lots of interesting facts are smuggled into the text. Did you know that the Pole Star changes? No, neither did I. Well I knew that the Earth changed its rotational axis but had not made that final leap that as it changed so must the Pole Star. All in all my kind of book: exploration, love and facts.
DISCLOSURE: I was sent a review copy by the publishers in return for an honest review.
UNDER A POLE STAR by Stef Penney
Published by Quercus
Price: Hardback £18.99, Kindle £9.49