REVIEW: Whiteout by Adriana Anders
Dear Adriana Anders,
I had a bit of trouble getting into Whiteout. I kept stumbling on little things which didn’t quite ring true and which made it hard for me to relax into the story. However, once past the setup I enjoyed the romance. The sections where the protagonists are on the run for their lives in Antarctica were great and were the highlights of the book for me. The landing didn’t quite stick for me either but there was a lot to enjoy nonetheless.
Angel Smith is a cook for the NSF at the Burke-Ruhe Research Station at the South Pole. She is only to be there over the summer and is due to return home to Pittsburgh imminently. There is clearly a story as to how she came to be there but happily it was doled out over the course of the book and not all at once. Angel can’t wait to leave. She hates the cold and is scared of the vastness of the ice. In her nearly 3 months at the station, she has had a crush on “the Ice Man”, Dr. Ford Cooper, a glaciologist who spends almost all of his time in Antarctica. He’s very closed off and taciturn however and she’s convinced he doesn’t like her.
The day she is due to leave Antarctica, for reasons which are clearly necessary for the plot but which didn’t really make sense to me, instead of being ready to board the plane home, Angel is in the ice tunnels under the station gathering supplies for the “winter-overs”. While there, she witnesses the new operations manager kill a scientist in order to find the location of some ice cores and she is suddenly thrust into deadly danger.
Perhaps I have enough knowledge about Antarctic to be dangerous. I had the privilege of hearing a talk by Rachel Robinson about her experiences leading an Australian Antarctic expedition (she’s a fabulous speaker). In any event, I found it very difficult to believe that the cook for the station would be one of the summer staff and not one of the staff who stay for a year. I found it difficult to believe that the winter-overs had to fend for themselves cooking-wise. Especially after hearing about the “bacon wars” from Ms. Robertson I thought it very unlikely that it would be in any way a good idea to leave a small group of people for 9 months without an experienced cook. I also found it difficult to believe that Angel could so easily get a berth as a cook and have so little preparation for the Antarctic environment. She clearly is not very knowledgeable about what goes on at the station (she doesn’t know what an ice core is for example) and this is used to assist with exposition within the story and also to further the “fish out of water” trope but I couldn’t help giving it the side-eye. The timeline of Angel’s sudden need to leave Pittsburgh and start her life again felt implausible for her to end up at the South Pole. Were I able to accept all of those things, it was beyond belief to me that a summer staff member could unilaterally decide to stay for the rest of the year with the winter-overs and nobody would batt an eye. But that is the story Sampson gives to the staff on the waiting plane when Angel is not on board on time and the plane takes off without her. Taken individually these things may not have caused me all that much discomfort but all together it had the effect of making me doubt the worldbuilding. In a romantic suspense it is not uncommon for reality to be extremely heightened and what makes me, for the most part, able to accept it, is the foundation of reality the author has set. Here, I felt (pardon the pun) on thin ice from the start.
Anyway, back to the story. Ford (known as “Coop” to most of his acquaintances – he doesn’t really have friends) was out on the ice checking on his drills at the time Angel was hiding from Sampson and when everything went to hell at Burke-Ruhe. All of his drills have been destroyed and he’s very concerned about a fellow scientist who was “unwell” the night before. Ford is suspicious and thinks something is very not right. When he gets back to the station, everyone is gone except for Angel. The summer staff have left and all of the winter-overs are missing too. The station has basically been destroyed and then he finds Angel, hiding and terrified.
As it happens, the ice cores that the bad guys wanted were ones drilled by Ford and, when all the drama was going on at the station, Angel cleverly switched the cores the villains wanted with more innocuous ones. So. Ford and Angel cannot stay at the station because there is no power for longer than a day or two and no way to communicate with the outside world. Nobody will be coming back for 9 months except the bad guys – who want the ice cores. The only option the pair have then, is to make their way to a “close” research station operated by the Russians and beg for aid. They have to travel 300 miles and most of it will be via ski, towing 300lbs of gear on a sled.
I admit to some confusion about exactly why they took the ice cores with them as opposed to hiding them or destroying them. The cores contain something bad. I won’t say here what it is because I’m not sure how much of a spoiler it would be. In any event, it is clear that there is a through story about what is in the ice cores which will continue to the next book in the series (at least) and it may be my question will be answered then.
The bad guys mostly came across at Bond-villain caricatures and I was confused at various times about exactly what they were doing and why. Perhaps some of these issues will be resolved in future books as well.
Where the story came into it’s own however was from the point that Angel and Ford have to battle the elements and outrun the bad guys. The description of life on the ice, the risk and the danger were so well done. Days of battling a headwind, in below-freezing temperatures, battling snow and ice and constant cold, the risk of frostbite, chafing and blisters were eloquently shown on the page in enough detail that I started to feel the cold and the hopeless despair that the pair were feeling as they strove to a likely impossible goal. They were in the position of having to move forward or die, knowing they would likely die anyway. It was very tense. I suppose it could have become boring – day after day on the ice – but you cleverly avoided that, giving just enough detail to paint the picture and ramping up the danger and risk just when I was feeling a little complacent.
It is through this part of the story also that Ford and Angel, having to rely on one another, begin to open up and share about themselves. The simmering and long-denied attraction comes to the fore but (hooray and huzzah!) there is no ridiculous sex which could risk phallic frostbite. The pair make sensible decisions about what they do and how they remain as safe as possible, even as the romance develops most satisfyingly.
“Avoided you for months so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself.” Another kiss, this one just lips, punctuating the secrets he unveiled to her. “Guess I’m making a fool of myself.”
“You’re not alone.”
“No.” He smiled against her lips. Every breath he took pressed into her body, uncomfortable in theory, but in reality perfect. Close, warm, comforting. “But we are.” He sighed, pulling slightly away. “Alone.” Another kiss, sweet and almost chaste. “And we need sleep.”
She nodded, which prompted another of those long, slow inhales against her cheek.
“But, damn, if I didn’t have enough reason to get us to a warm bed before, this…” He kissed her again, but the damage was done.
“Right.” She gave another nod. Survival before making out. It made complete sense.
Toward the end of the book some new characters are introduced which kind of changed the tenor of everything and the bad guys start behaving even more strangely. I had some questions about how it all worked out but I did love how much of a badass Angel turned out to be.
There was a point where I wondered if I was invested enough in the story to keep reading but I’m glad I persisted. The middle section, which is mostly Ford and Angel alone on the ice, was really strong but some early issues with the setup and things that didn’t gel for me near the end to do with the suspense plot made the overall experience fairly uneven. I loved the unusual setting and the battle against the elements and I have a soft spot for grumpy taciturn heroes like Ford so in the end I called it good.