Always North by Vicki Jarrett – Book Review

Always North by Vicki Jarrett – Book Review

Always North by Vicki Jarrett

Always North

Author – Vicki Jarrett
Publisher – Unsung Stories
Pages – 320
Released – 21st October 2019
ISBN-13 – 978-1912658039
Format – ebook, paperback
Review by – Tina
Rating – 4.5 Stars
I received a free copy of this book.
This post contains affiliate links.

 

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 – a profound meditation on our consumption of the world, and the perception of time. For fans of Adam Robert’s The Thing Itself, only at the farthest reaches of the world can we see the truths closest to our minds.

Review 2017

This is the perfect novel for those who enjoy desolate landscapes and post-apocalyptic sci-fi.

Isobel, a software engineer, accepts a job aboard a research vessel trailing an icebreaker into the North. The novel has evocative descriptions of the wilderness that surrounds the ship and captures both the freedom and threat of being so cut off from civilization. The tension builds at an even pace as the mission is threatened by sabotage, environmental pressure, and a polar bear that appears to be stalking the ship.

There are interesting characters (a gruff sea-captain who borders on a stereotype but never becomes one, a shifty corporate stooge, a potential love interest) and a likeable protagonist. Isobel is a young woman intrigued by adventure, who is self-confident and unapologetic about her stance on her relationships and her job. The novel broaches topical issues, such as sexual politics for women in STEM and whether all humans should feel collective guilt for environmental destruction, without distracting from the plot.

The novel does not take place entirely on the voyage, though I almost wish it did. The second half of the book, while incorporating flashbacks of the ship, carries forward the same tension and fatalistic tone as the first, but in an entirely new setting. In truth, the second half is less engaging than the first, in that the plot becomes far more fantastical (in a technological sense) than the very grounded journey in the first half. Yet, it never stops being engrossing. Humanity’s descent is as believable as it is tragic.

There are only a few issues which keep the novel from becoming utterly fantastic. The cause of a major event is never fully explained, and I found the second half meandered a little. The latter could also be because I enjoyed the sections on the ship so much.

By far the most impressive aspect of the novel is the writing. Vicki Jarrett exceptional pairing of elegiac prose with finely focused details makes what could have been a tedious journey (people travelling on a ship in the middle of a frozen wasteland with ever-present sunlight) beautiful and almost transformative.

Always North was an absolute joy to read.

Book Reviewer – Tina


Purchase online from:

Amazon.co.ukAmazon.comAmazon.inApple BooksBlackwells


About the Author

I’m a short story writer and novelist and live in my native Edinburgh.

Nothing is Heavy, my first novel was shortlisted for the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award 2013.

My first collection of short stories, The Way Out was published by Freight Books and was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award 2015, the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2015, and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2016.

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1 Response

  1. Emma Mane says:

    This looks different and interesting.

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