This fast-paced near-future thriller delivers a combination of geopolitical intrigue and technological speculation, only flagging as it reaches its jumbled conclusion.
Buckell (Sly Mongoose, 2008, etc.) comes down to Earth from the outer-space settings of his earlier sci-fi novels, with a story set just a few decades in the future, as global warming has opened a whole new avenue for shipping and trade in the Arctic Circle. Rather than depicting an apocalyptic doomsday scenario along the lines of The Day After Tomorrow, Buckell envisions global warming as a slow process with far-reaching but gradually accumulating consequences. Thanks to the opening of the Northwest Passage, so-called “Arctic Tiger” countries, including Canada and Greenland, have emerged as new world powers. The novel’s protagonist is a Nigerian named Anika Duncan, who works for the United Nations Polar Guard, an international agency that polices the semi-lawless Arctic Circle region. When Anika’s airship is shot down by rogue seamen from the deck of a vessel carrying a nuclear device, she’s plunged into a conspiracy that involves secret agents, underworld figures and a seemingly benevolent green-energy corporation with a sinister agenda. Buckell focuses as much on action-thriller set pieces as he does on teasing out a plausible future, placing the novel somewhere around the intersection of Michael Crichton and William Gibson. That balance holds until the climax, which mixes awkward speechifying with breathless, confusing action sequences that seem to exist solely to increase the body count. The nuances of Buckell’s ideas about environmental policy also end up obliterated by the reveal of a megalomaniacal villain who holds the world hostage with what amounts to a high-tech death ray. Anika remains grounded and sympathetic throughout, though, and the author’s vision of the development of Arctic civilization is consistently fascinating.
Buckell successfully draws the reader in with his characters and ideas, only to blow things up a little too thoroughly by the end.