Review: Sun at Midnight; Rosie Thomas

“He felt at long last, that he had travelled far enough…” (4 stars)

Source- personal copy

Published Harper Collins in 2004

Hardback edition- 471 pages 

I must confess that it’s been absolutely ages since I picked up a Rosie Thomas book- mainly because I do tend to find her novels quite hit or miss if I’m honest. When they’re good they’re really good, but when they aren’t… well. You know. 

I’ve really enjoyed some of her books in the past though- the beautiful Constance (which I remember devouring on holiday in Spain one year), the adventurous generations of women depicted within Iris and Ruby and probably my favourite of all of hers to date- the mystery and elegance of past and present-day India portrayed in the pages of The Kashmir Shawl. I was a tad confused by the ending of The Potter’s House, though judging by reviews, I’m happy to say I’m not the only one in that boat! 

That being said, I also struggled to get through the duller than dull Lovers and Newcomers, was grossed out by the start of Sunrise and I remember wanting to chuck the utterly dire Celebration right out of the window! I didn’t of course; it ended up in the charity shop donations bag, though I did have pangs of guilt for inflicting it on some other poor soul. 

So, it’s no wonder I picked this book up with some trepidation. It’s actually been sat on my shelves so long that I can’t even remember where or when I even picked it up. I’m guessing a charity shop judging by the unreadable price scrolled inside the cover, but I can’t for the life of me recall which one. I was however, in the mood for some good, escapist chick-lit/women’s fiction whatever you want to call it- and this one sounded intriguing in that it combines romance with mystery and travel elements and it is set in Antarctica. 

Other than some travel-type adventure stories and maybe a possible horror novel, I can’t recall reading a book set within the Antarctic before, and certainly not a romance novel at that. The bleak, barren beauty of such an isolated (and fierce) frontier doesn’t exactly scream out bodice-ripping and passion; after all, it’s far too cold there, innit? What I did expect from this however was atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere- and I’m pleased to say that I got all of that (and more) from the pages of this fantastically evocative read. 

Oxford-based geologist Alice Peel’s life is unfolding quite nicely, until her relationship suddenly fractures, that is. When she is offered a research position working in Antarctica, she is reluctant to enter such an unfamiliar, immeasurable world, though decides to take a chance. What she encounters on the expedition will change her- forever. 

James Rooker is a man on the run and now that he has taken a job working on the same Antarctic research base, it seems like he has run far enough- to the very ends of the earth in fact. 

When he and Alice’s worlds collide, nothing will ever be the same again…

What a vivid, atmospheric story! It sucked me right in from the get-go. The isolation and harsh beauty of Kandahar Research Base is wonderfully conveyed, from the majesty of the surrounding glaciers to the perpetual lightness of the never-ending skies and the surprising landscapes. There is awe and wonder, yet there is also violence- the Antarctic is not all that it seems and sudden storms blow up that trap the researchers in their small cabins for days on end so their sense of cabin fever and discomfort must be ever-present. The author’s prose is just fantastic and it is evident that she has spent time in the Antarctic herself as her descriptions do the place thorough justice. I could almost feel the chill of the ice and the sting of the bitter wind seeping through the pages- it was brilliant sensory writing. Also, I loved all of the information incorporated about the wildlife and other biological/geological scientific aspects of the continent- it added further realism to the narrative. 

Character-wise, I found everyone in this story to have a lot of depth (the secondary characters too), though I must confess that I didn’t like Rooker very much- at least at first. I liked Alice though and the dynamics of the relationship with her parents were nicely conveyed- especially how she has constantly felt that she cannot live up to her scientist mother’s expectations. She is determined to prove herself in Antarctica, no matter the cost. Though Alice and Rooker are very, very different people, somehow they just connect and it was interesting to read about. 

I found the romance in this novel to be pretty-slow burning, which I was actually grateful for this time around. A vast chunk of the book is taken up in setting the scene and establishing the back-story of the characters. When the romance eventually happens, it doesn’t feel forced or rushed and is believable because of the situation the protagonists have found themselves in. In fact, a lot of this novel merely delves into the everyday life of scientists on a research station, which far from feeling monotonous, I found pretty interesting. I’m probably never ever (in a million, billion years!) going to travel to Antarctica, so from that perspective this story offered a great ‘armchair travelling’ opportunity for me. 

Though perhaps predictable and somewhat contrived on occasion, this engaging novel is still filled with tender, happy and poignant moments and a laced with a few twists and turns for good measure. Though I’ve been wary about a few Thomas books in the past and with pretty valid reasons, if you’ve never read a Rosie Thomas book before and you are a fan of other contemporary writers such as Victoria Hislop, Erica James or Rosanna Ley, do yourself a favour and add this to your ‘to read’ list as well. You won’t regret it; it’s worth it just for the descriptions of Antarctica alone. 

Other books I have reviewed by Rosie Thomas: 

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