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A Blizzard of Polar Bears

Review

A Blizzard of Polar Bears

It's not often that a novel can combine thrilling action with fascinating characters and a setting that is depicted so precisely that we shiver while reading about venturing out onto pack ice in Northern Canada. Alice Henderson accomplishes all that and more in A BLIZZARD OF POLAR BEARS, which finds wildlife biologist Alex Carter taking a job researching polar bears for Canada's Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

But as Alex arrives in Churchill on Hudson Bay in frigid weather, her study seems plagued by unfortunate events. The helicopter pilot quits to get a better paying job, equipment is missing when it's badly needed, and there’s a break-in at the lab where someone wipes Alex's computer and steals her polar bear samples, which she had meticulously collected and stored. We know that a group of people are looking for something as we witness a violent act in the prologue, and Alex is caught in the middle of this desperate search. Henderson maintains the mystery throughout most of the story as we read the third person narration from Alex's point of view. We feel her frustrations, but we admire her resiliency and ability to take care of herself.

"[B]y the time we finish A BLIZZARD OF POLAR BEARS, we feel as though we could explain the process of studying polar bears and why it's imperative that this research be done. There are so many benefits from reading a book that once begun is difficult to put down."

Henderson works with wildlife as a sanctuary monitor, so not only are her novels a gripping reading experience, they provide information about the animals and habitats that the scientists in her books are studying. One such climatic event is called the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, which is the cause of droughts in California. In spite of its "ridiculous" name, it's a real thing. We also learn about how polar bears are studied by seeing how Alex monitors them after they are sedated. Researchers look at notes that were tagged previously to see how they are growing and what chemicals and pollutants are in their blood, fat, hair and nails.

Through Alex's narration, we read about the fascinating and horrifying fact of biomagnification. PCBs were banned in the US almost half a century ago, but they still contaminate much of the earth and are in the soil, air and water. They harm humans and animals by interfering with their ability to produce antibodies, thus making it more difficult to fight off infection. Because PCBs and toxins such as mercury, both products of industrial waste and pollution, are everywhere, tiny organisms like plankton consume food tainted with the pollutants. Then, when a larger organism eats lots of tiny ones, they become "carriers" of the pollutants.

Most of us who keep up with the news know about the disappearing pack ice that is making it more challenging for polar bears to survive. Henderson provides facts about exactly why this is so. Readers who love wildlife and express concern over climate change and the depredation of our natural resources will feel a camaraderie with Alex as she explains why she became a wildlife biologist: "Monarch butterflies are vanishing. American pikas are disappearing as the earth warms. Wolves and grizzlies are being killed in staggering numbers, gunned down by trophy hunters and governments; vast tracts of habitat are being destroyed; acidification of the ocean; the vanishing of polar sea ice..." After reading Henderson's novels, maybe more people will understand why this situation is so egregious and frightening.

The author also perceptively highlights how the rich and powerful, who benefit financially from the destruction of our earth due to their investments, gaslight those who would call them out by claiming their companies only care about people and their jobs. Protecting bears and other wildlife while trying to stop climate change and save our environment will only help us in the future.

Henderson's writing is not all mystery, action and climate change. Her narrative is beautiful and evocative, and she so capably describes a setting that we can practically feel, smell and hear it: "At night, the fragrance of desert wildflowers carried on the wind. The moon rose, painting the desert silver. Javelinas snuffled around in the undergrowth, their little brown-and-white-striped babies skittering and prancing playfully among the adults. Coyotes serenaded them with their eerie yips and howls. Nectar-feeding bats came on silent wings, hovering over night-blooming cacti. And up above, the curve of the Milky Way spanned the heavens like a magical trail of campfires of ghosts long past." Here we have poetry mixed in with the mystery at no extra charge.

Reading Alice Henderson's books almost feels like cheating. Her mysteries are exquisitely expressed, and we admire Alex Carter’s passion for doing the right thing. We also get to visit exotic locales while never having to leave the comfort of our couch. As still another added bonus, by the time we finish A BLIZZARD OF POLAR BEARS, we feel as though we could explain the process of studying polar bears and why it's imperative that this research be done. There are so many benefits from reading a book that once begun is difficult to put down.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on November 19, 2021

A Blizzard of Polar Bears
by Alice Henderson

  • Publication Date: November 9, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0062982109
  • ISBN-13: 9780062982100