ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stef Penney grew up in the Scottish capital and turned to film-making after a degree in Philosophy and Theology from Bristol University. She made three short films before studying Film and TV at Bournemouth College of Art, and on graduation was selected for the Carlton Television New Writers Scheme. She has also written and directed two short films; a BBC 10 x 10 starring Anna Friel and a Film Council Digital Short in 2002 starring Lucy Russell.
She won the 2006 Costa Book Awards with her debut novel The Tenderness of Wolves which is set in Canada in the 1860s. . As Stef Penney suffered from agoraphobia at the time of writing this novel, she did all the research in the libraries of London and never visited Canada.
Flora Mackie was twelve when she first crossed the Arctic Circle on her father’s whaling ship. Now she is returning to the frozen seas as the head of her own exploration expedition. Jakob de Beyn was raised in Manhattan, but his yearning for new horizons leads him to the Arctic as part of a rival expedition. When he and Flora meet, all thoughts of science and exploration give way before a sudden, all-consuming love.
The affair survives the growing tensions between the two groups, but then, after one more glorious summer on the Greenland coast, Jakob joins his leader on an extended trip into the interior, with devastating results.
The stark beauty of the Arctic ocean, where pack ice can crush a ship like an eggshell, and the empty sweep of the tundra, alternately a snow-muffled wasteland and an unexpectedly gentle meadow, are vividly evoked. Against this backdrop Penney weaves an irresistible love story, a compelling look at the dark side of the golden age of exploration, and a mystery that Flora, returning one last time to the North Pole as an old woman, will finally lay to rest.
On choosing to read this novel you should prepare yourself for a very long read.The book is over 600 pages, definitely not an easy read, and definitely full of many different themes that would appeal to some, but put others away. I paid a lot of attention when reading it, that is why it took me so long to review it. Still, I am not entirely sure whether my annotation would be adequate enough to show the true grandness of this novel.
The writing is of a very high standard. If I have any issues with this book it would be about the pace. The descriptive writing is great however, at times, it seemed to slow the book down for me. The inside story of those early expeditions is fascinating as the tale is gradually told. I would imagine this book would be a “must” for many Steff Penney fans.
Personally, I was a bit taken aback with the huge amount of information that the book bombards you with. But, I am almost entirely sure that was my fault, not the novel’s. I was a bit overworked and definitely not focused enough to fully appreciate the story. The characters are all lovely, strong, determined, life-like, not without a fault, of course, but it is extremely easy to love them and follow their journey.
This is a book to read by a fire, imagining the beauty of snow and ice while immersing yourself in this epic story of adventure and love. It was an enjoyable read, but I felt stretched out of my comfort zone.