________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 13 . . . . November 27, 2015


Mystery in the Frozen Lands.

Martyn Godfrey.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2015.
168 pp., pbk., hc. & ebook, $12.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.), $8.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0842-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0843-2 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0844-9 (ebook).

Subject Headings:
Fox (Ship)-Juvenile fiction.
Franklin, John, Sir, 1786-1847-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Chris Laurie.

*** /4



My friend glanced out across the frozen sea. "Whenever I kill something, do you know what I do?"

"You pray, I've watched you," I answered. "You thank God for the kill."

He shook his head. "I pray. But you're wrong about who I thank. I thank the animal I've just killed. I thank the seal for giving up its life so that I can live."

"It didn't have much choice, did it?" I smiled. "You stuck a spear into it."

Anton didn't return the smile. Instead he pointed at his ears. "Deaf," he said. "Your people frighten me, Peter. What will happen on the day when you kill everything? One day you'll find that there is nothing left. Just you and all the holes you've dug."

"You don't know how big the world is. There's so much. Enough to last forever."

"Look at this land and tell me how much of everything there is."

"You're being foolish, Anton," I said. "When we get back to the ship, I'll show you books that tell of other places. Warm places where there are –"

"No," he interrupted. "A deaf person cannot whistle the song he doesn't hear."

Peter Griffin is the ship's boy aboard The Fox, departing London in the year 1857 in search of his uncle, Sir John Franklin, and the two ship, 28-man expedition he led in search of the Northwest Passage. Twelve years earlier, his uncle had sailed from England to complete the search for the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific. But Franklin and the entire expedition vanished without a trace.

      As ship's boy, Peter is responsible for mundane and dirty tasks that none of the sailors want. Washing, cleaning, emptying toilet buckets, and serving food are Peter's routine aboard the ship. Peter also finds himself apprentice to the ship's stoker, doctor, sail maker and quartermaster. When Peter's keen eye sees the ship safely through an ice jam, Captain McClintock also has him trained up in mapping, tides and navigation. The ship has also taken on Anton, an Inuit from Greenland, to take care of the dogs and act as interpreter. He has also passed this information along to Peter, as well as how to build an ice-hut. The two are close in age and find each other endlessly fascinating as they discuss the oddities of each other's culture.

      Speculation as to what happened to Franklin's expedition has led dozens of search parties across the Arctic. Why did they abandon the ship and drag a boat across the ice? Natives have told stories of white men escaping a sinking ship and dragging a boat across the ice. But one fact keeps niggling at Peter: why would the starving, sickly crew have taken silverware, lightning rods and iron stoves in a heavy, wooden boat with them?

      As the search proceeds, the crew interview the native Inuit as they engage them in trading, hoping to discover clues or possibly even salvage from the sunken ships. Gradually a picture forms as to the route Franklin may have taken. Despite efforts to stave off scurvy, an increasing number of crew have taken mysteriously ill, and Peter and Ivan, in recognition of their breadth of knowledge of the area and survival skills, are chosen to continue on.

      Godfrey has painted a vivid picture of the bleak North as well as to what daily life in a ship would have been like all of those years ago. Throughout the novel, Peter works through all of the clues that somehow must fit together. He doesn't necessarily believe what everyone else assumes to be true, and he proposes a theory that no-one else has that might explain what happened. Peter has had several birthdays aboard The Fox, and his first shave. He is an engaging hero with a keen interest in every facet of life, including Ivan's culture. This page-turner quickly builds to a suspenseful conclusion and will prove a satisfying read to tweens while also being a fascinating introduction into the first and greatest Canadian mystery. "Further Reading" titles are provided at the back of the book for those whose curiosity has been piqued.

      An "Author's Note" self-identifies this novel as "fiction for a young audience and not a scholarly account." An exciting update by award-winning author Ken McGoogan provides details on the recent discovery of one of the lost ships.

      Martyn Godfrey began his writing career while still a teacher. Winner of the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Mystery in the Frozen Lands, Godfrey became one of Canada's most popular writers of fiction for young people.


Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at the Winnipeg Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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