Book Review for “The Arctic Fury” by Greer Macallister.
Summary: “In early 1853, experienced California Trail guide Virginia Reeve is summoned to Boston by a mysterious benefactor who offers her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: lead a party of 12 women into the wild, hazardous Arctic to search for the lost Franklin Expedition. It’s an extraordinary request, but the party is made up of extraordinary women. Each brings her own strengths and skills to the expedition- and her own unsettling secrets. A year and a half later, back in Boston, Virginia is on trial when not all of the women return. Told in alternating timelines that follow both the sensational murder trial in Boston and the dangerous, deadly progress of the women’s expedition into the frozen North, this heart-pounding story will hold readers rapt as a chorus of voices answer the trial’s all-consuming question: what happened out there on the ice?”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary Fiction – Biographical, Women; Settings: Historical – Boston, America, Canada.
Well, well, well… Macallister has really done it this time! To be specific, she’s taken a real woman and instead of following all of her real life, she took just one actual portion of it and then invented a whole new path for her. You see, Virginia did exist, but she’s famous for being one of the few survivors of a disastrous exhibition across the Sierra Nevada mountains. Apparently, Macallister wanted to give Virginia a much more exciting life than she actually had. To do that, she took another bit of history – the expedition of Captain Sir John Franklin with the two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. This tragic trip attempted to cross the last unnavigated portions of the Northwest Passage, located in the Arctic of Canada. Macallister decided to have Franklin’s wife put together an all-female party to find her husband, in the hopes of finding him alive, and she put Virginia up to lead these women on this mission.
Yes, this is pretty fantastical, I agree. However, you must admit that it is also an interesting concept, and one that was pretty forward thinking for the era. Then there’s the bit where the death of one of the women in the group leads to Virginia going on trial for that woman’s murder. In this way, Macallister has two, intertwined story arcs – the expedition, and the murder trial. But that’s not all! Macallister also gives us the backstory for each of the other women accompanying Virginia, albeit in less detail, but with just the right amount to keep the tension going, and further the plot/s. To top it all off, Macallister makes the whole work behind the building of the expedition into a type of cloak and dagger operation, where Mrs. Franklin wants to keep her name out of the whole business, using a surrogate to contact Virginia and the other women she chose to join her.
Does this sound complicated? Of course; it is VERY complicated. And yet, at the same time, it is all very simple. In fact, in the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been one huge, hot mess. The thing is, Macallister’s mastery in storytelling and artistic writing style makes this into an historical thriller that slides as smooth as silk from one point to another. Macallister also teases her readers by slowly but surely building the conflict, and holding off on the dual climaxes until the very last moment possible. She even adds a twist in the end that’s such a punch in the gut, it almost had me in tears! But what really makes this book work on all levels, is how Macallister is able to turn a rag-tag bunch of strangers into a group of quasi-sisters, with all the affection and rivalry that abound in these types of relationships. In other words, it isn’t all “kumbaya,” but the discords are never disrespectful, even when the deference is sometimes given less than charitably.
I should note that reading this book made me realize that the one I read before this was a bit of a disappointment as far as writing style was concerned. That novel was very dull reading by comparison. This novel is written in such a vivacious style, with descriptions that truly came alive for me in my imagination. The starkness of the scenery, beautiful and scary at the same time, felt very real. (Hell, I actually felt like I needed to put on a sweater, if not a fur coat, when Macallister described the cold.) This is the type of writing that I’ve come to expect from Macallister, and she did not let me down in the least. No, the subject matter isn’t easy, and yes, there’s a whole lot going on, but oh my… this book delivers on every level! For all this, there’s no reason for me not to warmly and wholeheartedly recommend this novel, and give it a full five out of five stars!
Sourcebooks Landmark will release “The Arctic Fury” by Greer Macallister on December 1, 2020. This book is (or will be) available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.