Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Book Review: OUT OF THE ICE by Ann Turner

Out of the Ice

Out of The Ice
Author: Ann Turner
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Read: March 2016
Expected publication: 1 June 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

When environmental scientist Laura Alvarado is sent to a remote Antarctic island to report on an abandoned whaling station, she begins to uncover more than she could ever imagine.

Despite new life thriving in the icy wilderness, the whaling station is brimming with awful reminders of its bloody, violent past, and Laura is disturbed by evidence of recent human interference. Rules have been broken, and the protected wildlife is behaving strangely.

On a diving expedition, Laura is separated from her colleague. She emerges into an ice cave where, through the blue shadows, she is shocked to see an anguished figure, crying for help.

But in this freezing, lonely landscape there are ghosts everywhere, and Laura begins to sense that her own eyes cannot be trusted. Is her mind playing tricks? Has she been in the ice too long?

Back at base, Laura’s questions about the whaling station go unanswered, blocked by unhelpful scientists, unused to questions from an outsider. And Laura just can’t shake what happened in the ice cave.

Piecing together a past and present of cruelty and vulnerability that can be traced all around the globe, from Norway, to Nantucket, Europe and Antarctica, Laura will stop at nothing to unearth the truth. As she sees the dark side of endeavour and human nature, she also discovers a legacy of love, hope and the meaning of family. If only Laura can find her way...

Out of the ice.

My thoughts:

Environmental scientist Dr Laura Alvarado is no stranger to Antarctica, having spent the best part of her career conducting research in this harsh, pristine and untouched wilderness. When she is chosen to conduct an environmental impact assessment on Fredelighavn, an old Norwegian whaling station abandoned in the 1950’s after whaling had been made illegal, she is excited – the area has been an exclusion zone for decades, and Laura hopes to discover some interesting finds there. Yet her arrival on South Safety Island is far from what she had expected – the male scientists at the British base receive her with ill-concealed hostility and she learns that Dr Koch, the scientist assigned to be her partner for the project, has been delayed due to ill-health.

Not easily deterred and aware of time constrictions due to the climate, Laura sets out on her own to explore the old whaling station. Yet she is not quite prepared for what she finds there. Most of the houses appear as if people have left in a hurry, leaving even their most valued possessions behind, ready to step back into their old lives any minute. Even the wildlife is behaving in a bizarre manner, and Laura is horrified when she is attacked by a group of usually peaceful Adelie penguins. What has been done to these animals to make them so hostile towards humans? Looking around in the abandoned buildings, she has the eerie feeling of being watched, and suspects that the safety of the exclusion zone has been breached by intruders. Haunted by ghostly encounters and a strange vision in the ice, Laura questions whether her mind is playing tricks on her from being in Antarctica too long, or whether there is something sinister going on here. As Laura strives to uncover the truth and also come to terms with her own demons, the reader is taken on a journey from Antarctica to Nantucket to Venice, her initial research becoming a matter of life and death as she is trying to  stay one step ahead of people who will stop at nothing to protect their interests.  

I loved “The Lost Swimmer” and Ann Turner’s latest novel also had me spellbound from beginning to end. The setting is pure magic – skilfully evoking the harsh and yet beautiful environment of Antarctica, I felt like I was there myself, surrounded by ice and snow and wildlife I have only ever seen in documentaries. The whaling station is an amazing place of beauty and tragedy, and the perfect setting for the menacing undertones and suspense that were soon driving the story along. What better setting for a psychological thriller than the harsh and isolated environment of a place cut off from civilisation for the best part of the year? From the start, the reader knows that Laura is very much on her own here – ostracised by the male scientists on the island and not privy to the research being conducted here, she must draw on all her inner strength to uncover the truth and find some allies along the way. There is also a vulnerable side to Laura stemming from events in her past, which throws some of her reality into question and adds to the suspense. Is there really something sinister going on in the old whaling station, or is Laura losing her mind?

The history of whaling and the whaling community was both heartbreaking as well as an eye opener for me. Rarely is anything in history black and white – whilst our society abhor whaling and recognise these beautiful creatures as an amazing and intelligent species, some of our ancestors relied on whaling for their survival. Living in an area where whaling also formed a large part of history and where we regularly see these magnificent creatures in the wild, I loved Turner’s honesty regarding the topic and her willingness to explore it from all perspectives. I especially loved the descriptions of how these people set out into an alien environment and tried to make a home for themselves there, very much like the Adelie penguins building their nests.

I was absolutely captivated by the book and could not tear myself away, feeling transported into a different world from which I surfaced only reluctantly for food and water. Do not start reading this novel unless you are prepared to get nothing done! There were a couple of twists to the plot later in the book which seemed a little far fetched, and the end came perhaps a bit too soon and tied up too neatly for me, but all in all the mystery worked really well for me. Highly recommended, I can’t wait to read more from this amazing author.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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