Top positive review
"It is here one learns what discipline means; the North is a hard school"---William McKinlay (Karluk survivor)
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on April 14, 2011
"The Ice Master" was a joy to read and this reader was sad to see it end. It is an exciting story, very well-written and told in such a way that this reader was surprised when, at one point in the book, certain crew members did not survive. In 1913, famed explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson took the fishing ship Karluk, captained by Robert Bartlett, an Eskimo family and the largest scientific crew to date on a quest to find an undiscovered continent to the north. Stefansson was impatient to leave and did not worry about The Karluk being ill equipped to handle ice nor did he bother with making sure proper provisions were acquired or that all the pemmican supply was tested. While the Karluk was stuck in the ice, Stefansson took several crew members and abandoned the ship to look for his continent leaving Capt. Bartlett and a crew inexperienced in Arctic conditions on a ship destined to sink. What followed was a story of defiance, perseverance, suffering, death, deception, mystery, and survival.
Jennifer Niven did an excellent job with the sources to reveal the personalities of the officers and crew members. Some were painted in a very bad light. Stefansson, in particular, was not respected by Capt. Bartlett and much of the crew and seemed to regard the lives of his party as secondary to his goals. Several scientists had little respect for Bartlett and created their own clique that would eventually leave the rest of the crew and go their own way. When Bartlett left for Siberia to find help, he put in charge an officer described as very lazy with a lack of leadership skills. With the captain gone, discipline sometimes broke down. Some crew members stole food from others--even from the little Eskimo girls. There was even a possible murder. Much was written on scientists Bjarne Mamen and William McKinlay due to their large contribution to the source material. They, along with Capt. Bartlett, were the most likable of the story; however, much of the story was told from their point of view.
As another reviewer noted, a factual error is found in this book regarding the lack of survivors on the Jeanette which, in the late 1800s, had taken a similar route as the Karluk. The diary of the Jeanette's captain George Washington De Long was eagerly read by the scientists who decided to break away from Bartlett and his party. An incorrect name is used at the top of page 343--"Maurer, Chafe, and Templeman" should be "Maurer, Munro, and Templeman." One other criticism is the repetition throughout the book in both content and style. Many times Niven used the phrase that a crew member would pray something would happen or would not happen, sometimes in the same paragraph. She sited many times that Mamen did not know how their situation would end and then, on page 250, she wrote "for the first time [Mamen] truly could not imagine how it would all end." Specific hardships of the crew were also repeated many times. The repetition did, however, prolong a book which this reader looked forward to opening from beginning to end, so a star will not be deducted from the score.