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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Book Review: The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister

I'd heard a lot of good things about this book so I was glad when my book club picked it, plus I love a good historical novel. 

Virginia Reeve has been leading groups of settlers through the Sierra Mountains on the California Trail out west. Thanks to a newspaper article, she is contacted by a wealthy benefactor and paid to come to Boston for a project. Once there she discovers the woman is Mrs. Jane Franklin, the wife of the missing Arctic explorer. He's been gone for a couple of years so most people have given up hope, but Mrs. Franklin wants to know what happened once and for all. And after multiple expeditions of men have failed, she decides to secretly fund an expedition of women to go. She thinks women have different strengths and might be the difference in getting there. Secret because if it fails, that will set back women's rights (or at least that's the story.) 

So there's a motley group of thirteen women with a variety of skills (medical, cartography, journalism, financial) who need to be corralled by Virginia into a solid crew of explorers, to head into the deep Arctic unknown. 

Meanwhile, in alternating chapters we know that Virginia is on trial for murder of one of her crew. The woman on her team with whom she butted heads the most did not come home (and she's not the only one), and her parents want someone--Virginia--to pay. Also we get some flashbacks to Virginia's days in California, and her childhood when her family made that same fateful journey West. 

There were excellent discussion topics throughout the book. However, a lot of us in the book club found the book less than compelling. With so many characters, it was hard to get to know many of them well, and while the multiple POVs and timelines were not too confusing, it did seem to lend an element of contrivance to the structure that seemed unnecessary. I felt the trial chapters were drawn out to equal up with the exploring chapters in a way that overly balanced the book. But the exploring chapters had more meat to them and heft. I often felt like I was just getting through the trial chapters to get back to the main action. And the payoff didn't feel worth all the hype--I guessed most of the "twists." That said, I still found it entertaining to imagine a group of women explorers in the 1850s and I did finish it (I had not finished it before the discussion so I certainly could have stopped then.) But I'd say it was good, not great.

I bought this book from Main Street Books in Davidson, NC, my local independent bookstore.

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