Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell

Tobias S. Buckell         
Tor, Hardcover

304 pgs           
ISBN 978-0-7653-1921-0
Electronic ARC/Review Copy courtesy of the author        


The ice caps are melting, global warming is a reality.  Harnessing new forms of energy for power generation and material creation is an increasingly global problem, in the fairly near-future setting of, Arctic Rising.  This novel is a bit of a thematic switch from Buckell, best known for his far future Xenowealth novels and his novels/stories set in the universe of the Halo video games.  Set in the Arctic region which is absent of much of its ice, the story focuses on UN Pilot Anika Duncan as she tries to find answers to questions like – Why was a Nuclear Missile on the ship that tried to take down my airship? Why are they trying to kill me? Who are these people? What connection to they have to the little sphere I found on the ship?

Buckell starts the action early with the aforementioned ship conflict, causing Anika to crash and her partner to eventually die.  From there, she’s chased, nearly run off the road and killed, taken in by her potential lover Violet and meets the spy Roo.  The characterization is, as that sentence suggests, not your typical one. Violet (aka Vy) is perhaps the most infamous drug dealer on Baffin Island, where much of the early portion of the novel takes place.  There’s also an unusual international variety amongst the main characters. Anika is of mixed Nigerian background, whilst Vy has a Russian bodyguard, and Roo is of Caribbean origin. I wouldn’t be surprised if Roo is somehow related to Buckell’s character Pepper (from his Xenowealth saga), if not by blood, then he’s at least a spiritual cousin of sorts.

For an ecological action-thriller, Buckell more than proves he’s capable of delivering the goods. More impressively, he balances the action pieces with equal amounts of engaging character development and geopolitical intrigue.  The novel is broken into short, engaging chapters that make it easy to pick up and difficult to put down as many chapters end in a sort of question/conflict that made me want to keep reading.

The Arctic landscape provides for an interesting cross-section of the world, many individuals and cultures on the fringes have gravitated to the Arctic, which is in many ways, a new melting pot of a society trying to find an identity. Many people are willing to take advantage of a land where the law is fairly loose. As Anika becomes more entrenched in the geopolitical intrigue, she finds herself questioning her personal limits.  This began with killing in self-defense and leads to even darker questions where the answers she seeks might leave the fate of not just the Arctic region, but possibly the world hanging in the balance.

The global warming theme and far ranging plans of those in power – or more importantly those who wish to be in power – may seem something out of a Jason Bourne or James Bond story,  In fact, the characters even call out the James Bond name, and that knowing acknowledgment makes for an even more enjoyable ride at Buckell’s capable hands. The macguffin(s) of the novel are clever little buggers that of course, in the wrong hands, could allow the owner of said technology to become a power broker on the Bond villain/Lex Luthor super-villain level.  I realize that sounds a bit hokey, but Buckell’s handling of the groundwork for such a possibility is very plausible.

The ending brings the story to a close, but a proverbial shining light could be a hint of things to come (or maybe even a connection to his Xenowealth novels).  Anika, Roo and Vy are terrific characters with whom I was very pleased to get to spend time.  Only time will tell where Mr. Buckell will next ply his novel writing trade, but with Arctic Rising, he’s penned an entertaining, thought provoking thriller that could have the wider appeal of some of Michael Crichton’s better and stronger novels.


© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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