As a child, Flora visited Greenland with her father so often she can speak the native language of the Inuit she befriended there. A journalist discovers her story and she becomes known as The Snow Queen. She will require an education and sponsorship if she wants to return as a scientist, which means making some difficult decisions. Who will want to fund or join an expedition led by a woman? This is the late 1800s after all.
Jakob is fascinated by ice, and glaciers in particular. He joins an expedition led by polar explorer, Lester Armitage, a difficult man whose obsession with fame verges on madness and leads to a terrible accident. But through this Jakob meets Flora and their immediate connection drives much of the plot.
The story see-saws between the viewpoints of Flora and Jakob, both of whom are immensely likeable characters. But the novel starts out in 1948 with a reporter interviewing Flora about the old days and we learn that Jakob and Armitage had long ago mysteriously disappeared. This was potentially a problem for me – the risk of developing empathy with a central character you know is doomed before you even meet him.
My other problem with the book is its length. At 600 pages, I felt a little judicious editing, especially of the lengthy graphic sex scenes, might have produced a tighter plot-line, and given more prominence to the interesting themes around exploration, colonisation and women’s place in society that affect the fate of the protagonists.
Stef Penney is a terrific writer with a gift for creating amazing settings and powerful characters. Under a Pole Star is well worth reading, though you might like to skim a few chapters here and there.
Posted by JAM
Catalogue link: Under a Pole Star