Thrillers are generally good, fun reading, but not necessarily a place to expect the best writing. The writing is usually adequate, but its the story and the action that dominate. In Arctic Rising
the story is action-packed with compelling characters and its got quality writing. This is a smart thriller Buckell has done his research. And for a book that set in a time reacting to the consequences of global warming, its not the didactic global warming research you may think of. The United States military has done lots of contingency planning based on what could happen in the future due to global warming Buckell takes these studies and uses them to create a convincing story through the eyes of middling UN pilot of a new socio-economic order of nations and corporations battling it out in the arctic. There are spies, there are mercenary soldiers, there is a criminal underworld. Theres torture, redemption, hopelessness, nano-technologic wonders and an errant nuclear bomb.
All of this is told from the viewpoint of Anika, an unlikely character to be at the heart of a thriller. Buckell could have stuck to the tried and true protagonist a white American guy from the coast, or even a nice white American girl from the Midwest. Instead, Buckell looks to his own mixed routes as an immigrant from the Caribbean and chooses a female protragonist who is from Nigeria. The perspective of Anika as someone from the developing world and her interactions with an independent spy, Roo, from the Caribbean are a fascinating touch. The lingering effects of colonialism are present, the distrust of the big developed nations and their corporations is palatable and the repeated jabs to the presentation of international espionage from James Bond are hilariously sharp.
Equally refreshing is the inevitable love story subplot. As the story progresses, Anika develops a potential relationship with an underworld boss. Only as cliché as this could be, Buckell throws expectations a curve ball with Anika being a lesbian. The story could have easily been told with a traditional man-woman love story, but instead its a same-sex romance. And the best part its just there. This isnt some big statement and it doesnt control some critical part of the thriller plot. The romance just happens to be same-sex, and its presented as being as normal as apple pie. I look forward to the day that such a romance is normal enough to not merit mention in a review like this.
And Anika is wonderfully strong protagonist. Shes tough and vulnerable. Shes conflicted about her feelings for Vy and what she owes a criminal boss who has seemingly selflessly helped her so much. She has an interesting past as a pilot and was even something of a child soldier. Shes a victim and a survivor. But she doesnt lay down and take it, and she doesnt rely on a rescuer to the best of her ability she stands up to take as much control of the situation as possible.