Review: The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven

Cover of The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven

Author: Jennifer Niven
Title: The Ice Master
Format/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: November 2000
Publisher: Hachette Books
Length: 402 pages
Genre: Creative/narrative non-fiction
Why I Read: Interested in the Karluk‘s journey
Rating: β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
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My introduction to the Karluk voyage came via Eric Walter’s Trapped in Ice. Walter’s book is one of the earliest chapter books I remember reading, perhaps in grade three. Earlier this year, I read Captain Bartlett’s official journals of the event in The Karluk’s Last Voyage. Both of these books indulge in some sugar coating and neither of them explore what happened to those left on the ice after Bartlett departed. The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven (author of All the Bright Places) fills in those gaps, offering a detailed account of how the Karluk‘s final voyage went so wrong. The fate of the Karluk provides an excellent exploration of how one terrible choice after another can lead to disastrous outcomes.

I enjoyed how Niven constructed the narrative. She attempts to allow “the people of the Karluk […] to speak on these pages in their own distinctive and passionate voices” (ix). This results in a tale that is less a factual account and more an adventure novel, though it still has that non-fiction vibe to it. She describes small yet poignant moments, such as when Mamen’s pocket watch suddenly starts working again during a dull day (78). However, Niven’s narrative makes it almost too easy to root for the good guys and boo at the bad guys. It’s harder to keep in mind that these were real people Niven didn’t know. The personalities of and interactions between the men may have been more complex than Niven portrays. Still, I enjoyed rallying behind Mamen and nodding in agreement with his judgment of certain characters.

The time the men spent on the island was a lot darker than I imagined. (The other two accounts I read of the Karluk were poor influences on my expectations.) Some nasty characters inhabited the Karluk, even if they weren’t in actuality as awful as Niven portrays them. I can’t help but wonder if any of it was inspiration for The North Water. Of course, that book is on a whole nother level; it’s a bit of a stretch to link the two…but I can see how one might get some seedlings of ideas from the Karluk’s situation.

The ice was misleading. It was easy to feel safe when the ice was still and settled and the men were tucked safely inside the ship. Their frozen home gave them a false sense of security. The scenery, too, was unspeakably beautiful, and it was hard to believe that something so lovely could at the same time be so deadly. The sky was bright as a mirror at times, and there was only ice and snow “and a few openings and small water channels that shine and glitter” as far as the eye could see, observed Mamen. (64)

Niven’s prose itself isn’t exceptional, but it doesn’t need to be. The subject matter impresses on its own. A handful of moments (I would have appreciated more of them) made me pause as I imagined what it would have been like to truly experience the Arctic ice, snow, and darkness.

There were two degrees of frost on McKinlay’s bunk, and everything that was freezable in the Cabin DeLuxe was frozen and frozen hard. When the men awakened, the room looked like a glittering ice palace. It covered everything, and long, jagged icicles shone from the ceiling. (87)

The Bottom Line:

A well-researched and well-written (and at times emotional) account of a lesser-known disastrous Arctic journey.

Further Reading:

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September Month in Review

September month in reviewLook at this! My first monthly review post. I’m not really sure why I’ve never written one before, but now it seems like a tidy way to keep track of what I did in a month and what I’m looking forward to in the next. I updated less frequently than usual in September. Migrating my blog ate up my spare time (although admittedly procrastinating via playing around with the design is what actually ate my time….). I added some momiji (Japanese maple leaves) and orange to my navy colour scheme. I’m not much of a designer so this is probably as creative as I’ll get for now πŸ˜› But so far, so good.

Books Finished

  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • A Song to Take the World Apart by Zan Romanoff
  • Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
  • The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Books Reviewed


  • My sister and I discussed Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls for Family Reads.
  • I posted Part 2 of my literary pilgrimage series documenting my travels around New Zealand, AKA Middle-earth.

Shared on Twitter

Upcoming in October

  • Oct. 4 – Publication of When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (MG fantasy inspired by Chinese folklore) and When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (YA magical realism starring a Pakistani trans boy and a Latina girl)
  • Oct. 11 – Publication of Beast by Brie Spangler (contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a trans character) and “We Found a Hat” by Jon Klassen (final book of his picture book trilogy).
  • Oct. 14 and 15 NerdCon: Stories. I’ll be heading down to Minneapolis for this convention for the second time with my best friend and my sister. The whole event has been something of an experiment, but I think it has a lot of potential this year. Unfortunately, this will probably be it’s last year. You can get 20% off with the discount code DFTBA, so maybe check it out?
  • Oct. 19Kid Lit Blog Hop
  • Oct. 22Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon
  • Oct. 25 – Publication of The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (Not sure how to describe this one. Key descriptors include 1880s, witches, tea shop, spirits, and missing woman.) I’ve seen 4 publications dates for this. I’m going with what NetGalley says, which I believe is the Canadian publication date.

October is going to be a hectic time! I’m also attending the local comic convention at the end of the month, during which I’ll be volunteering for four days straight. How was your September? What are you looking forward to in October?

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Cybils 2016


Today nominations open for the Cybils Awards. The Cybils are the Children’s and Young Adult Blogger’s Literary Awards. The award “aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal”. I don’t usually follow awards, but I appreciate the Cybils because, as a fan of middle-grade and as an aspiring children’s librarian, it’s one that’s actually relevant to my interests.

My Role

I’ve nominated books in the past, but this year I’m stepping up my involvement. I’m excited to have been selected as a panelist for the middle grade fiction category. This means I will be part of the first round group that goes through all nominees for that category and creates a shortlist of five to seven books from which the round two judges will select a winner. There are a number of reasons why I’m excited to take on this role: I look forward to helping find books that deserve the spotlight, discovering some great books I might have missed otherwise, becoming more involved with the MG/YA book blogging community, and learning more about the genre alongside seasoned pros. My fellow panelists are librarians who have been blogging about books a lot longer than I have. Be sure to check out their blogs.

How to Participate

At the start of this post, I mentioned nominations open today. They remain open until 15 October. Anyone can nominate a book (one nomination per category). There are 11 categories, ranging from board books to young adult fiction to audiobooks. Nominated books must be 1) published in Canada or the USA, 2) between 16 October 2015 and 15 October 2016, and 3) written in English. Books don’t need multiple nominations to make the cut. If you nominate it, it will be considered! You can find out more at the Cybil Awards website.

Have you read any books this year that you think are worth nominating?

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Don’t mind the mess…

I have planned all year to migrate to WordPress from Blogger. I always said, “Well, I think I’ll get to it in the fall.” And here we are! I had a free day today and suddenly felt really motivated. Perhaps I bit off more than I can chew – things should look prettier around here by Sunday – but I think everything is functional. I probably should have made a post before I made the switchover, but I didn’t really think things through πŸ˜›Β  Hopefully I haven’t lost anybody in the transfer.

If you’ve moved from Blogger to WordPress, please let me know any tips you might have! (Also, if you come across any problems/errors…I know there are many, haha. I’m working on them slowly but surely. ) I’m basically starting from scratch with my design and all that. I’m excited to freshen things up and explore some of the plug-ins I hear other bloggers rave about…

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