The Broken Lands

Written by Robert Edric
Review by Juliet Waldron

The ill-fated journey of Arctic exploration undertaken by Sir John Franklin is the subject of this deliberately drawn biographical novel. Detailed records of the expedition were found by later, more fortunate explorers. It is upon these texts that The Broken Lands is based.

The search for a Northwest Passage began with Frobisher in the sixteenth century; it was still very much on the adventurer’s menu in 1845. The expedition’s skills and equipment were “modern,” but the transition from sail to steam was not yet complete. The officers and sailors were intrepid, but the “tinning” of food was a science in its infancy. Corruption on the part of military suppliers may have had as much to do with the loss of the expedition as the Arctic ice in which the ships became inextricably trapped. The Esquimos appear to scavenge the ship of dying men, gazing curiously at those Englishmen still alive, immobilized by starvation and lead poisoning. The consciousness of the last survivor shrinks to a vanishing point in a white on white world, a mind dutifully taking notes while long past either feeling or fear.

The appearance of the natives is counterpoint. Hungry but not starving, the Esquimos hunt seal across the drifting ice. Despite the Franklin Expedition’s courage, discipline, and bravery, adaptation was the only–and utterly unthinkable–path to survival. The beautiful prose never strays from the Victorian and military mindset of the source material. In the end, the effect is of a cold, constrained nightmare–a record of duty bound men with a one-way ticket to hell.