I just realized that I have had a lot of posts lately featuring horror books. So, today I thought I should write about something different. either a thriller, science fiction or a post-apocalyptic tale, but then again why not do a book that is all these genres together, “what genre blending book is that” you might scream from the top of your lungs standing on a rooftop. “Always North by Vicki Jarret, published by Unsung Stories” I retort, barely a whisper!
We all have to work to live, even if it is an illegal survey for oil in the rapidly melting arctic. Software engineer Isobel needs to eat like everyone, and that’s how she fell into the job that leads her to the most northerly place on our planet.
As part of a weathered crew of sailors, scientists and corporate officers she sails into the ice where their advanced software Proteus will map everything there is to know. A great icebreaker leads their way into the brutal environment, and the days grow longer, time ever more detached, as they pass through the endless white expanse of the ice.
But they are not alone. They have attracted the attention of seals, gulls and a hungry, dedicated polar bear. The journey to plunder one of the few remaining resources the planet has to offer must endure the ravages of the ice, the bear and time itself.
This is what we find when we travel – Always North –
Whenever I have a craving for some literary speculative fiction of fringe science fiction I usually go to Unsung Stories! They publish quality books, books that have me sit in a comfy chair and stare pondering out in the distance, stroking my chin whilst sounding a long and thoughtful “hmmmm”, books that make you think is what I am saying! Always North is no exception to this.
In this story we follow Isobel, a young software engineer, on assignment on a research boat traveling up the arctic, after an unspecified event, we jump ahead in time and find and older Isobel, living in a broken world, most of ocean life is dead, sea is rising, little food is produced, and life is hard. Isobel joins up with a team that tries to discover what really happened and undo the climate catastrophe. That is as far as I will go about the story itself, any more than that would be too spoiler-ific. Let me just say, that this was a book that made me feel smart and good about myself whenever I figured something out, but then I would have two more questions. Well, I do like being challenged!
What I will say is that the story is well paced, Jarret seamlessly interweaves the two timelines we follow. It features a great cast of well-rounded and faceted characters, Isobel herself is a great protagonist and a prime example of a believable and well layered main character.
The part of the novel set on the boat, is quite claustrophobic, I don’t know if this is a personal experience thing, but I just felt oppressive feeling you get from being surrounded by cold metal walls in the middle of nowhere all the more. Still, that is some great writing there!
The settings themselves are mind-bogglingly well crafted, from the isolating empty and vast icy North Sea (since I am from the arctic area, so I did feel quite at home for the most of the time reading this) to the future, oh that future! I do read a lot of post-apocalyptic stories, but the future we encounter in Always North is the bleakest I have read in quite some time, it has outbleaked a lot of my top world ending novels! Outbleaked? Is that a word? Well it is now!
It is only the damage done to nature that seems irreversible, but also the damage and hopelessness done to humanity, humanity is on its last legs here, barely clinging on trundling along to an inevitable future.
In conclusion; this is a well written, seamlessly genre blending tale with great characters and beautifully and bleakly world building!
So, I rate this book at a 4.5/5 hungry and savage polar bears!