The Arctic Fury, the latest from Greer Macallister, is a hybrid of adventure and courtroom drama. The story centers around Virginia Reeve, who leads a group of women north into Canada and towards the Northwest Territories in 1853. If you look on a map today, you see Nunavut Territory. It’s Northwest of the Hudson Bay. And it’s the brutal cold Arctic, as the book’s title implies.
The goal is finding two lost explorer ships, which other expeditions so far failed to do. This time, Virginia and her band of 12 other women make the trek, sponsored by the Lady Jane Franklin. It’s her husband, Lord John Franklin, who led the lost ships some years before.
At the start, we also learn that Virginia stands accused of murdering another woman in the group, Caprice Collins. Caprice’s parents bring charges against Virginia in their home city of Boston, despite the death happening thousands of miles away. They’re well-connected and wealthy, so the court accommodates them.
As the group departs, Virginia bristles at the unlucky number of 13 adventurers. Accordingly, the entire trip is unlucky and unhappy. To tell the story Macallister moves between multiple timelines, including the arctic and the courtroom.
She also offers multiple perspectives, including various women in the group. Her main storyteller is Virginia, but we hear from many of the other key figures as well. Of course Virginia has secrets about her past, which influence her character and ultimately the events.
When I began The Arctic Fury, I expected something altogether different. The book sounded like a high-suspense, event-driven plot. And two of Macallister’s past books delivered on this promise. Instead, this book propelled like a ship in an ice jam—slowly.
The time on the ship heading north through the Hudson Bay had events of note—the clashes between male crew members and the women, for example. But once they arrived in the arctic, I imagined the women facing challenges in the wilderness, like wolves or hostile humans. While we learn that they hunted regularly, it’s more often told than shown. As the women struggle with heavy emotions and long, dark nights the action slows down considerably.
I also wanted suspense in small ways as well as big. And Macallister delivers on some of that. But unfortunately, the big question—is Virginia found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang—is truly the only significant suspense.
On the other hand, I liked the way the arctic explorers confront gender roles. None of these women are meek and prissy types. Virginia wishes often for her buckskin pants, but she also struggles to truly inhabit the leadership role. Other women are more comfortable there, including the doomed Clarice. And this makes for some interesting conflict among the troop. But still, it didn’t feel like quite enough to propel the novel from good to great.
Still, if you’re looking for historical fiction with a unique premise and gender role conflicts, this would work well.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Sourcebooks Landmark, and the author for the opportunity to read a digital advanced readers’ copy in exchange for this honest review.