Book Review

The Ice by Laline Paull

the ice

I absolutely loved Paull’s debut novel, The Bees, and I pre-ordered The Ice as soon as I heard about it.  It was released in May, and so I am quite late getting to it, but it was worth the wait.

The novel opens aboard the cruise ship Vanir as the captain seeks an increasingly rare sighting of a wild polar bear for his passengers, and has a brilliant opening line:

They were rich, they were ready, they were ravenous for bear.

Desperate to satisfy his passenger’s desires – and their excessive sense of entitlement – the captain heads into waters that are off limits, but is successful in sighting a polar bear.  Unfortunately, a glacier calves (I think I’ve used the term correctly) at that time, revealing a cave, and a dead body.

The body is identified as that of Tom Harding, a former Greenpeace worker who was helping an old friend from university, Sean Cawson, with a business venture.  The recovery of Tom’s body leads to an inquest to determine what happened on that day three years ago when Tom died, and Sean was the last person to see him alive…

My favourite part of this novel was the inquest.  I love a courtroom scene, and whilst the inquest is not a criminal trial – it merely seeks to establish the cause of Tom’s death, not to determine guilt – this still has all the tension of a criminal trial.  I enjoyed the way that Sean’s part in the story is told, partly through his dialogue as he tells the inquest what happened, and partly through flashbacks, putting the reader directly there as things happened.  Whilst this isn’t necessarily original, it works really well in this novel, and the build up to the denouement is incredibly tense.

The inquest doesn’t begin until around halfway through The Ice, however, and Paull takes the time to introduce the characters and their backgrounds, again through a combination of present day goings-on combined with flashbacks.  In this way, we see Sean and Tom at university, how they became friends, and their mutual obsession with the Arctic.  The focus of this is Sean, who is presented as having achieved his aim of accumulating substantial wealth, but is divorced, and not on speaking terms with his teenage daughter – her choice, not his.  Whilst he’s clearly successful, I couldn’t help but wonder what it had cost him along the way, and I was reminded a little of Gavin Extence’s novel The Empathy Problem in this respect, although The Ice is darker in tone.

I’d describe The Ice as an eco-political thriller which tackles some big topics such as climate change and corporate greed.  And it is a thriller, building up to a stunning climax with some unexpected twists thrown in.  Whilst this is a very different novel to The Bees, and one that I perhaps didn’t enjoy quite as much (although it was always going to be a tough act to follow), there is a similar message in here about the way we treat our planet, and I love it when an author delivers something a little unexpected.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


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