Author: Marcus Sedgwick

Publication: Roaring Brook Press, 2009

Pages: 240

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_1-star-rating_zpseb48ae1d[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Sig and his family live somewhere far north of the Arctic Circle, where the snow is deep and the temperatures can dip to thirty below zero.  One day, Sig’s father is late coming home.  Sig goes out to search, and finds him frozen to death out on the lake.  He’d clearly been in a hurry and had taken a short cut over thin ice and fallen in.  Sig’s mother and sister go for help while he stays home with his father’s body.  That’s hard enough, sharing the small cabin with his dead father, but then there’s a knock at the door.

Wolff, a huge bear of a man, forces his way inside the cabin and tells Sig that many years ago – when Sig and his family were living in the gold mining town of Nome, Alaska – he struck a deal with Sig’s father, Einar.  Einar reneged on his part of the bargain and ran, leaving Wolff to spend a miserable winter in Nome.  He’s been tracking Einar ever since, and now he wants the gold that Einar stole from him.

Sig doesn’t know anything about the gold, but Wolff doesn’t believe him.  And as the story unfolds, Wolff’s violent nature begins to spill over.  Sig knows he has only three choices – run, try to get his hands on his father’s old Colt revolver that’s hidden in the store room, or die.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Sedgwick does a fantastic job dropping us into the world of the frozen north.  We can fill the bitter cold, the isolation, the fear, and the hard scrabble life around every page.  But Sedgwick also lets us in on the beauty and the moments of joy that Sig and his sister find playing in the snow.

Sedgwick broke the book into two interwoven parts.  The main story is told from Sig’s perspective following his father’s death.  But interspersed with that is the story of how Einar met Wolff.  It takes place ten years earlier in Nome and is told from Einar’s perspective.  While it may be unusual to have a prominent adult voice in a YA novel, in this case it works.  It’s still clear that this is Sig’s story, but by weaving in the background through chapters told from Einar’s perspective, we’re able to get to know the dead father that Sig loves so much and to better understand how the family wound up in such trouble.

What I Liked the Least: The only complaint I have here is that the female characters in the story, while not overlooked entirely, were not as deeply developed as the male characters.  That makes sense, to some extent, since the gold rush world of Nome, Alaska and the mining towns of the far north were extremely male dominated.  All the same, I wish Sedgwick had done a better job of developing some of the female characters, especially Sig’s sister, Anna, who is ultimately trapped in the house with him.

How Good was the Action?  There’s not a whole lot of action – just a bit at the end, though it is well done.  This is more a finely wrought tale of suspense.  There’s not much in the way of chases, no shoot-outs or fights, no survival stories out on the ice.  Most of the action takes place inside Sig’s tiny cabin, as he tries to survive under the increasingly brutal threats and attacks from Wolff.

How Engaging was the Story?   Sedgwick does a great job delving into his characters, especially Sig, Einar, and Wolff.  He keeps the story very concise, with few subplots, tight pacing, and short chapters that all drive the story forward and keep your attention riveted to the page.  While there’s not much action until the end, Sedgwick maintains a powerful of tone of suspense throughout the story, and provides a tantalizing hook at the end of each chapter.

Overall Assessment: This is a short and very tense book that does an amazing job of placing its readers into the world of an early 20th century mining town north of the Arctic Circle.  That atmosphere permeates every aspect of the book, which is full of fear and uncertainty tinged with loss, but still manages to end on a note of hope.  Don’t hesitate to pick this one up.

Profanity: None

Sex: Minimal.  There is one brief, aborted rape scene, but it’s interrupted almost before it starts.

Violence: Yes.  Wolff is a man of great physical force and he doesn’t hesitate to use it.  Sig and his sister get threatened and beaten.  There is blood and there are gunshots.

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