Friday 13 August 2021

Neo-Victorian Voices: The Arctic Fury, Greer Macallister (2020)

The novels I’ve reviewed as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series, on books written in the twenty-first century but set in the nineteenth, have run the gamut in terms of “historical accuracy”. Some writers were inspired by a real person’s biography, as I was in my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress. Others continued or expanded the stories of nineteenth-century fictional characters or imagined entirely original stories within historic settings. In her latest novel, The Arctic Fury, Greer Macallister dreams up an all-female expedition to the Arctic in search of the lost Franklin expedition. Did this really happen? No. Does it make for an entertaining story? You bet.

Virginia Reeve is employed by Franklin’s wife, under mysterious circumstances, to lead an all-female party in search of the missing men, but only some of the women return. She finds herself on trial for the murder of one of those who followed her North. The novel progresses in a dual timeline as we learn if Virginia will face conviction and potentially punishment by death, as well as what really happened on the women’s hazardous journey.

I appreciated the novel’s great pacing and Macallister’s ability to keep the trial storyline and the flashbacks equally engaging. I also loved how many of the women were inspired by real historical figures. An all-woman team mightn’t have gone to the Arctic in the 1800s, but there were plenty of intrepid female explorers, cartographers and mountaineers, whose exploits find new life in these pages. 

Macallister also makes the brave choice to give every member of the expedition her own point of view section, though Virginia is without doubt our main character. This means we get to hear a diverse array of voices and helps us form emotional connections with what could have been an unwieldy cast.

While a protagonist withholding information from us is a personal bugbear, the revelations of the ending are well done. This is a book that will appeal to those who love courtroom drama, as much as those intrigued by a story of women battling the elements.

Which recently published, nineteenth century set novel would you like me to review next as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist

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