Monday, 12 April 2010

The Secret Ministry of Frost

Gordon Fitzwilliam has mysteriously disappeared in the Arctic, and his daughter Light, along with their servant Butler, is attending his funeral - with empty coffin - on ths shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. Thus begins The Secret Ministry of Frost, the intriguing story of Light's quest to find her missing father, following in the steps of the lost Franklin expedition of 1845. Fitzwilliam, curious to know why so many men on that expedition seems to have disappeared without trace, has fallen foul of the aeons-old creature known as Frost, a monster so fearful that even the Inuit won't talk about it.

Light has had an unconventional upbringing: shunned at the local school because she is the albino daughter of an Inuit mother who died on an earlier trip to the Arctic, home-educated by her explorer father and Butler, she is brave and resourceful, and when her home is invaded by murderous slit-eyed killers - isserkiat - she and Butler purchase an ice-breaker and set sail for Nunavut, where she will encounter gods and monsters, and discover the truth of her birth. Despite her Inuit heritage, she is utterly unfamiliar with the physical demands of the Arctic, which tax her strength and courage, and she must also face even the even greater challenge of a shamanistic journey in order to save the world from the ravages of Frost.

Light's enemies are truly terrifying, and Nick Lake makes few concessions to his YA target audience - this is a violent, gory, can't-put-it-down sort of read. I have a few minor niggles - "Inuits" as a plural irritated me (although a quick Google seems to suggest some legitimacy), and it may be that Canadian readers may find some that I have missed. Also, my occasional contact over the years with Canada's First Peoples gives me some slight qualms about cultural appropriation - not a discussion I plan to embark on here, beyond noting that it can be a  contentious issue - but taken on its own terms, this is an pacy adventure story with a nod to colonial history, in the form of the Franklin expedition, with the extra attraction of its venture into the harsh yet beguiling world of Inuit mythology. There is beauty here as well as terror.

On a personal note, I am counting this as a contribution towards both the Canadian Book Challenge - well, it is about Canada - and Once Upon a Time IV: I'd rather expected my reading for the latter to have its usual European slant, and I'm delighted to have found something so different to recommend (I shall be buying copies for my favourite people, you can be sure). The cover, by the way, is lovely - you can't tell from the picture here, but it sparkles all over with snowflakes. The splendidly atmospheric title, by the way, comes from Coleridge's poem Frost at Midnight.

13 comments:

  1. I remember reading advance publicity for this book, and it sounds from your review as though it lives up to expectations.

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  2. Have you read Owen Beattie's "Frozen in Time" and the other books in which he publishes the results of his research into the fate of the Franklin expedition? I came across "Frozen in Time" more than 20 years ago and the book made a lasting impression on me. The whole Franklin expedition mystery holds a strong fascination for me, without it actually being necessary to add any mythology, gods, monsters etc.
    But it is one way to approach the subject, and certainly sounds like an absorbing read.

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  3. I've made a note of this one as it sounds right up my street.

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  4. When I read the post title, I thought oh, great! Something about the Detective Inspector Jack Frost. :<)

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  5. I am intrigued and I shall definitely be looking out for a copy. Thank you.

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  6. Well, after reading Dan Simmons' The Terror two years ago,I am definitely going to read this one too. It sounds like there are a few similarities, which I'm interested in, plus it sounds very good all on it's own. I'll let you know about the cultural appropriation bit! I do want to say that the Inuit are a definite part of Canadian heritage. The inuit (inuk? I forget the name of course now that I need it!) carving for the 2010 Olympics is the guidepost the Inuit build on their trails up north, that point the way to the nearest settlement (home). :-)

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  7. This does sound excellent. I thought of Dan Simmons right away, as well. I will search this one out, as I enjoy polar reading, but have some of the same concerns as you've raised here. Will have to read it and see what I think!

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  8. Cornflower, it's something a little different.

    Callmemadam, it's scary, but in a good way...

    Librarian, I agree that you don't need monsters to make the story of the Franklin expedition gripping, but I didn't mind them here.

    Cath, yes, I think so!

    Sorry, Nan, not this time - I think they's just shown the last ever episode here, but I didn't see it.

    Fleurfisher, hope you enjoy it - easy to spot with that attractive cover.

    Susan and Melwyk, I haven't read any Dan Simmons, so I googled The Terror - now that DOES sound scary. I shall be interested to hear what you both think about the issues I mentioned.

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  9. what an interesting-sounding book though, and I love that Coleridge is the inspiration.

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  10. We read this in our book group, as one of our group knows the author. We all liked it very much, and were as surprised as you at the goriness. However the characters will brilliant, especially Tupilak the shark-headed man.
    We liked the way it combined Inuit folklore with the English/Viking Jack Frost. I also read the Coleridge poem, and it was obviously a great inspiration.

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  11. Readers just can't seem to get enough of Franklin. This one sounds like a cross between The Terror and The Ice Child by Elizabeth McGregor. Another relatively new one is Wanting by Richard Flanagan. It brings Dickens into the mix. Can't wait to read it.

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  12. I missed that you read this! I really enjoyed it as well. Though I'm often queasy about cultural appropriation, I thought the material was handled in a respectful way, and I think it was a good way to bring a mythology that doesn't get a lot of fictional airtime to people who otherwise wouldn't know about it. It's possible someone with more familiarity with the Inuit would feel differently, though.

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