The Arctic Fury audiobook
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“In the front row sit the survivors.” This evocative first line sets the stage for a chilling tale, in more ways than one. In 1854, Virginia Reeve stands trial for the murder of the young, rich, and spoiled Caprice Collins, just one of the women who failed to return from their quest to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin and his lost ships. Frustrated by many unsuccessful previous searches by men, Lady Franklin makes a final attempt to discover what happened to her husband and his crews when they explored the Canadian Arctic in search of a Northwest Passage. A proven adventurer herself, she understands that women are far more capable than mid-19th century thinking assumes and anonymously funds a group of women in the hope they will succeed where men have failed. Lady Franklin appears to choose Virginia for her experience in leading wagon trains westward, though Virginia has her own reasons for wanting to leave that life behind.
Macallister keeps us on a tense edge in the courtroom and in the frigid North, alternating the story between the trial and the women’s expedition. With an apparently incompetent defense attorney and inattentive judge, it is doubtful that the support of the survivors will be enough to counter Caprice’s parents’ moneyed influence. On the expedition, it becomes increasingly doubtful that all 13 women will survive as danger comes not only from the weather, but from crewmen who have little regard for women on their ship.
Yet each character has particular skills and abilities that keep us hopeful, many of whom were inspired by real woman of the time period. Masterful storytelling abounds as each woman has at least one chapter written from her point of view, where something is revealed that we wouldn’t otherwise know. Their reasons for attempting the adventure are as varied as their places in society, yet they share the common thread of flouting those restrictive expectations. Intertwined in all of this is Virginia’s self-imposed guilt at her failures as a leader and the specter of The Very Bad Thing which haunts her conscience.
Warm mulled wine or a cup of hot chocolate would be a satisfying accompaniment to a solitary read or a bookclub discussion of this fascinating exploration of these adventurous and complex women.
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This book is well written and an interesting read, but its a bleak story and not without flaws. Ms. McAllister is good with prose and the story is compelling. But some of the plot construction and character development could have been stronger. The issue that bothered me most was the passivity of the main character, Virginia. She doesnt speak up for herself, she lets people run roughshod over her, and she often doesnt act to help herself. She endures, but she gives up her power at every turn. Maybe she thinks she doesnt have any power. Still, I just wanted her to try to help herself. Particularly when shes on trial – which is half the book. It drove me nuts. And it wasnt just the trial. Shes also frustratingly passive in her interactions with Lady Franklin, Brooks, Caprice and others. Action is just generally more interesting in a story than inaction.
Which brings me to my next observation: Virginia doesnt seem to go through any internal catharsis. Yes, a lot happens to her externally. But she doesnt seem to change or grow through her experiences- which is typically part of the main arc of any story. She survives (external). But what did she learn about herself? How did she grow? Maybe I just didnt see it or maybe the change was too subtle for me.
I also felt, with exceptions, the secondary character development was weak. There are 13 women on the expedition but other than Caprice, most were briefly introduced in the beginning and then quickly go lost in the crowd. Theres little to distinguish them other than: Margaret is the journalist. Ann is the sled dog lady. Ebba? I honestly, couldnt tell you who she was. I had to keep looking back to remember who they were. Theres sometimes a random chapter dedicated to one of their points of view, often right before their demise. Maybe you could argue they werent important – its Virginias story after all – but Id argue that focusing more on their interpersonal dynamics with more actual dialog between them (which is also relatively sparse), while they go through this struggle together would have enhanced the story and made the reader care more.
For the most part, its not really a story about the personal interactions & relationships between these women as they face the hardships of the expedition together – which is a shame. I found the best scenes in the book were the few times the author does dive deeper into the personal dynamics of the women. One such scene involves an argument between Virginia and Caprice (who hate each other) where Caprice reveals her inner feelings about being a woman of privilege, how trapped she feels, and her jealousy of Virginia who is unconstrained by social norms and appears free. It exposed a deeper layer to Caprice (whos pretty selfish and superficial up to that point) and it changes the lens in which you view her. It also was nice to read some sustained dialog between the characters which I didnt realize I was starving for until there was a scene with it. I felt the book would have benefited from more of these types of interactions.
That being said, the scene that finally describes what happens to Caprice is incredibly moving and powerful. But it’s exactly because of the more fully developed relationship between Caprice and Virginia that it packs a bigger punch.
The Author also effectively weaves in details about the status quo of classism, sexism and racism in the mid 1800s and the dangers that presents, particularly for women. That is an interesting and rich layer to the story.
And lastly, although I was able to overlook it, the expedition (the central plot hook of the story) felt a bit nonsensical. In the big picture, Virginia has been commissioned by Lady Franklin to find what happened to her husbands lost arctic expedition. From the start its a poorly planned debacle with reckless stipulations attached that could endanger them all. No sane woman would do it. Many of the women are largely inexperienced with limited Arctic survival skills. The planning and supplies are left to some shady character named Brooks and they are rushed to leave within days of signing on with little to no preparation. No one questions anything. They are put on a whaling ship, to Repulse Bay located in the northern tip of the Hudson Bay (Canada) – which is to be the apparent jumping off point for the expedition. But whats the plan from there? Are they going to wander around the arctic looking for dead bodies and sunken ships? It all felt a bit vague. Or maybe I didnt read that part carefully enough. Anyway, a lot of the story takes place on the ship en route to Repulse Bay where things dont go all that well. Less time is spent on the land journey over ice and snow. In the end, theres a lot of pointless suffering for nothing. But perhaps the expedition was never the main story. Maybe the author intended Virginias trial to be the main focus with the expedition as just the backdrop. Regardless, I found myself wishing the expedition had more meat to it.
Still, the book is a good read, and although its not the tale I expected, I recommend it. The ending is satisfying too.
Audiobook The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister
The premise in The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister is that Virginia Reeve, an experienced guide, is hired by Lady Jane Franklin to find out the fate of her husband’s expedition to the Arctic by leading her own expedition of women. A year and half later, Virginia is on trial for the murder of one of the women in her expedition.
I loved the historical aspect of the story, learning more about the treacherous circumstances these expeditions to the Arctic faced, the drive they felt to succeed, and the harsh realities of the environment when the elements turned against them. However, the characterization of the characters was so flat. I didn’t care about any of them or what happened to them, least of all Virginia. I guess part of what bothered me was taking a person who had survived something as horrible as the Donner Party and putting that person as a character into an almost identical situation, trying to survive the Arctic, as a form of redemption, just didn’t work for me. If I had to read “the Very Bad Thing” one more time, the book probably would have taken flight. It was beyond irritating. An all women expedition sounded like a great theme for the book, but as it played out, it didn’t feel plausible at all. These women were not prepared, had no experience, and had no chance for survival. Pushing the “women can do anything men can do” agenda and setting the story in 1850s Arctic? Nope, it didn’t work for me after all.
Audio The Arctic Fury narrated by Eva Kaminsky
An original idea poorly executed
Free audio The Arctic Fury – in the audio player below
A gripping and well written story with interesting, complex characters. I highly recommend this book!
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