This hot love story from an American author, set on a freezing continent, has touches of New Zealand occasionally. The setting is the Antarctic, extensively described and providing an unusual and often terrifying setting for the action.

The main character is American penguin researcher Deb Gardner, who we quickly learn keeps to herself ("I close my eyes for the eight-hour flight"), heading with a group of American scientists on a flight to McMurdo Station, the United States' base on Ross Island.

Deb is on a foundation grant to do a census of the emperor penguin colony nearest the base. On this fateful flight, she meets the love of her life, Keller Sullivan.

So it starts; a new and promising-looking novel (lovely front cover, blue with stars) which unfolds in a series of different times before a disaster, an intriguing device that keeps the reader engaged.


At the start, we're told of the fateful 1979 Air New Zealand Flight 901 out of Christchurch "which crashed into the side of Mt. Erebus. It was the worst disaster in the history of this continent - until five years ago. Until the Australis," writes Raymond.

Wait, what? The Australis? Oh, that's right. This is a novel, so it's just a figment of her imagination. The novel describes an interesting place, but descends into preachy territory and neither of the main characters is particularly appealing. One particularly low point is when Deb and Keller are talking to paying passengers on the small expedition ship the Cormorant when he loses his rag: "I know you all came here for the experience of a lifetime - but there's just too many of you," he rages, telling Deb the Antarctic is more like a cemetery than a country club.

Okay, got that message. This is a not-so-thinly-veiled political rant against climate change: the melting ice, falling Adelie counts, litter, effects of the nasty humans. So, I get it. Humans: bad. Penguins: good.

There are many faults: long lines of dialogue, a non-subtle and heavy-handed political message and fairly routine writing. But I did finish it; I figured I had started, so I might as well grit my teeth and get on with it, a bit like enduring the rough seas around the Antarctic. Still, a possibly confusing merger of fact with fiction.

by Midge Raymond
(Text Publishing, $37)