A short version of this review was completed for the LoveReading Reader Review Panel. My thanks to them for the copy of the novel.
This is the story of Flora, she was a Scottish scientist and explorer. She spent a large part of her childhood in the Arctic onboard her father's whaling boat, and as such she had developed a love of the Arctic and the native people that lived there. We follow Flora as she returned to the Arctic as an adult, and met the romantic interest in the novel; Jakob.
I gave this novel 3 stars, I thought it was ok. There were aspects of the novel I enjoyed, the author's descriptions of the Arctic were particularly impressive in this novel. Penney's use of emotive language very successfully conveyed the beauty of the landscape she was describing, but also the inherent danger of the place. There were whole passages that painted detailed pictures of the sun rising or the starry night sky.
I also really enjoyed the exploration aspect of this novel, I was intrigued by the idea of a female explorer at that time, and the struggles she would inevitably face. I also enjoyed learning how an expedition would be carried out in the late 19th century, just how much planning was involved etc. Many of the struggles Flora faced were tied up in her femininity, she faced a lot of prejudice as she tried to plan and lead her own expedition in a world filled with misogyny, and I enjoyed how the author described these, and how Flora battled past them all.
However, this novel is 600+ pages long, and it did not contain enough action or gripping enough characters to keep me intrigued throughout, and I found I had very little desire to pick the book up.
I thought the characters had lots of promise, but unfortunately the author failed to shape them into fully developed characters, or in Flora's case she made her so cold and aloof that it was impossible to get to know her, and thus to care about her at all. Jakob and the whole cast of minor characters were so poorly developed that I wasn't invested in any of them, and at times I actually struggled to tell them apart.
A large portion of the beginning of the novel was taken up with explaining Flora and Jakob's childhood and university experiences respectively. It added very little to the story, didn't really develop the underdeveloped characters, and was a serious struggle to wade through. I believe that this novel could have been improved by a bit of culling, removal of extra scenes that added very little to the story but took up far too much time to get through. This would have made the novel quicker to read, which may have allowed me to get more involved with the characters, and so enjoy the novel more.
The latter half of the novel is mostly about the romantic relationship between Flora and Jakob. There are quite a lot of graphic sex scenes in this novel, so if that is something that bothers you then I would be cautious about reading this novel. This didn't bother me, but due to the high number of sex scenes there was little else written about their relationship other than this. We weren't given an insight into their relationship in any way other than physically, which I find disappointing, as a relationship is built on a multitude of things, and for it to be believable to the reader it must have this evidence behind it.
Overall, this novel contains many beautiful descriptions of the Arctic, and is an ok story of the first explorers of the Arctic, but is sadly let down by poorly developed characters and limp and lifeless romance.
Thanks for reading!