The Arctic Fury

Written by Greer Macallister
Review by Sarah Hendess

Lady Jane Franklin says she does not believe her husband, the explorer John Franklin, is dead. Multiple expeditions to the Arctic have failed to locate him, but all of these expeditions have been undertaken entirely by men. Clearly, Lady Franklin insists, an all-female expedition is the answer. But it’s 1853, and women simply don’t do such things.

Except, perhaps, for Virginia Reeve, a trail guide from California. Bankrolled by Lady Franklin and accompanied by twelve other adventurous women, Reeve sets off from Boston for the Arctic to find John Franklin and, hopefully, to bring him home alive.

One year later, Reeve is back in Boston, on trial for the murder of one of the members of her expedition. Reeve is innocent, but in proving her innocence, she may have to reveal her darkest secret and those of her crew.

The research behind this book is exemplary. Readers get a true feel for the chill of the Arctic, the inhumane conditions of a 19th-century jail, class differences, and the way that women were considered expendable if it meant protecting a man’s reputation.

Macallister is a master of historical fiction with female characters, and The Arctic Fury is perhaps her finest work to date. Mixing courtroom drama with a thrilling Arctic exploration, she fleshes out thirteen distinct, three-dimensional expeditioners. This book passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, proving that a group of women need not be reduced to cattiness over men and clothes. But neither are the women flawless Mary Sues. Reeve, especially, misjudges people and struggles with self-doubt. These are women as women have always been, regardless of their time period: complex, nuanced, ambitious human beings.