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Stef Penny has an affinity for stories set in deep ice and snow. The Costa prize-winner is a wonderful writer, but this one felt a bit long.

stef-penneyFlora Mackie is 12 in 1883 when she first sails with her father, a Scottish  whaling captain, into Arctic waters.

She loves the regular trips, until her father decides she’s become too interesting to the sailors on board.

Determined to continue her icy explorations, she pushes her way into university in London to get some qualifications.

New Yorker Jakob de Beyn, a young geologist, joins an expedition to the Arctic with a star explorer, where he meets Flora. There is an instant connection, but there are endless barriers in their way.

On the one hand, this is a story is of women and politics in the context of a great Victorian-era adventure – the search for the north pole. It’s fascinating, though it’s easy to get a bit lost in the number of different expeditions going on.

On the other hand, it’s a passionate love story. Sex is a regular theme, and our heroes’ sex lives are explored in fairly thorough detail.

Then there’s the modern thread, set in 1948, that gives it a bit of a Titanic feel.

There is a lot to like (particularly on the science/adventure/mystery side) but, at about 600 pages, it felt too long.

Penney won Costa Book of the Year for The Tenderness of Wolves.

My review first appeared in the Herald Sun’s Weekend magazine. The book was published in November 2016. 

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