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The Ice Child


The Ice Child

There are those among us who like to read adventure novels, and those who like to read stories that are about love and family ties. THE ICE CHILD, in which Elizabeth McGregor weaves together three story lines, is an interesting mix of both.

The first is of London journalist Jo Harper, who falls in love with maverick archaeologist Doug Marshall and his obsession: the disappearance of the Franklin Expedition. Sir John Franklin and his crew sailed two ships to the Arctic in 1845 and were never seen again. Marshall has spent his career in search of what happened to them, sacrificing everything along the way --- including his first marriage and his relationship with his son. As he and Jo plan their future together, a shocking accident changes all their lives. Most significantly affected is John, Doug's son, who becomes haunted by Franklin and ventures into the Arctic, while Jo frantically searches for him --- to not only save his life but that of another he doesn't know is in jeopardy.

The second story is about Gus Peterman, a young sailor aboard the last Franklin Expedition. Sharing his tale gives readers an understanding of Marshall's obsession and points to clues on how the remains of this journey can be found.

The final story is of a male polar cub, whose mother will do anything she can to protect him.

All the characters are wanderers of one sort or another. They wander the sea as swimmers or captains, wander the world as journalists or archaeologists. Each is seeking a goal that proves elusive. The men aboard the ships are sometimes easy to confuse, but add a nice flavor to what could be stark territory. Crozier alone stands out among them. Sympathetic, lovelorn, nice to children...he is the one Doug Marshall is really looking for, and it is obvious why. He is well-developed as a character, and what happens to him is near heart wrenching.

Interesting to me was the characterization of Eskimos as savages. I am sure that this is the way they were viewed in Franklin's time, but it did shock me. The other characters steer towards being stereotypical; the surly adult child, the eagle-eyed journalist, the bitter ex-wife --- but they do carry the story along in an effective manner. And perhaps the character I enjoyed most was Alicia, the ex-wife of Doug Marshall. She lacks redeeming qualities and is as cold as the Arctic winter, and everything she does is obsessive and dramatic. Even when she breaks down in the end, she does so in dramatic fashion.

The early reading materials, and the heart of the story it seems, promote the fact that "The greatest force of nature is a mother's love." I found this to be true of all but one of the mothers in the book, including Swimmer the polar bear.

The transitions between the chapters, as well as the connections between them, is exceptional. Especially adept is the blood connection. It is slight but important, and extremely well-crafted. This single thread --- and that of the mothers --- creates the heart of the book. As well as being an interesting story line, the Aplastic Anemia is a nice call-to-arms for bone marrow donation. (The author even mentions the need in the Author's Note and Acknowledgment section.)

I cannot say enough good things about the Author's Note and Acknowledgment, which follows the postscript. I enjoyed knowing the truth of the Franklin Expedition and where the author took liberties. Do not, I implore you, read it before its rightful place in the book. Keep it like a surprise or reward for reading.  

Although I would not call this book literary, it is an enjoyable read. It would be great on the beach --- all that talk of ice might keep you cool. As McGregor herself states, "There is always hope. Especially in fiction."

Reviewed by Delilah Hill on May 1, 2001

The Ice Child
by Elizabeth McGregor

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0525945679
  • ISBN-13: 9780525945673