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A Flaw in the Ice
on 31 December 2016
I am a huge admirer of Stef Penny's novel The Tenderness of Wolves; indeed it is one of my go-to reads. What I love is the way she creates slightly edgy female characters, whom the reader does not instantly warm to, but gets to like along the way. I also love the way she etches out the snowy, icy landscapes in such precise detail that we feel we are standing on the threshold, watching what is going on. So I was really looking forward to reading Under a Polar Star, as it is set in a similar frozen landscape, and features the story of Flora Mackie, a gauche, slightly naive girl who grows up accompanying her father on his whaling expeditions, manages to go to university (no mean feat in late Victorian England) and ends up by default leading her own expedition to discover and map the Arctic. The tension between her expedition, and the American one exploring the region at the same time would, I thought, make a great story. And in some ways, it did.
Oh my, there is far too much sex in this book! Not that Penney can't write a good sex scene or twenty-five, but in places, it felt like reading Jilly Cooper on ice and was a distraction from the main story. I do not know why the editor did not cut some of them. Also a sign of bad editing: one of the main characters was invited to attend a sceance, where some special words were supposed to be given to him by his dead friend. But this never happened. The strand was just dropped. Also dropped or missed, a link at the end of the novel with the elderly Flora seen at the start of the book. I wanted to know more about her retrospective thoughts upon her adventurous life.
I would have loved to give this book 5 stars, as I did with Tenderness of Wolves, but it just felt too long and saggy in places and lacked the taut plotting of previous books. Should you read it? Yes ~ there are some amazing descriptions of the polar landscapes. But this is not as good as her first book, and I am sad to say I was disappointed.