When I saw that Whiteout is set in Antarctica, I found myself instantly intrigued. The place fascinates me and seeing Antarctica is a not-so-secret dream of mine. However, amazing though the continent may be, I know it’s a pretty unforgiving place in terms of climate and terrain, so the idea of people being stranded out on the ice there definitely sparked my imagination.
We see right away that life at Burke-Ruhe Research Station is not entirely as it should be. Summer is ending and before the long, dark winter, temporary staff such as cook Angel Smith will be leaving for the year. However, right before the plane taking the summer staff home is due to arrive, things start happening. New workers have shown up at the research station, and they seem more threatening than the usual crew. We also see references to the mysterious disappearance of one of the scientists.
Readers learn right away that while being in Antarctica fulfilled a need for Angel at the time, she is ready to be back home in Pittsburgh. The vastness of the continent and the extreme conditions make Angel nervous. However, her friendships with most of the crew make up for that.
And then there is the Ice Man. While definitely not one of Angel’s friends, the author does a good job of showing why the brooding Dr. Ford Cooper would be hard to miss. More comfortable out on the ice than in groups of people, he has definite presence on the page. Prior to the main action of the story, it is clear that he and Angel had minimal interactions, but we are shown clearly why he would still be memorable.
Without throwing in spoilers, we see in the early chapters that events cause Angel and Ford to miss the end of summer flight to South America. In addition, as they explore Burke-Ruhe Research Station, they find the station has been sabotaged and all their co-workers, including the winter over crew, have disappeared. They are clearly not safe staying in place, so the two gather what undamaged supplies they can find and set out across the ice on a long,grueling journey to another research station.
There’s a lot that is done well in this book. For starters, both Angel and Ford hold the reader’s interest. Each of the leads has an emotionally complex backstory, and the author does a good job of revealing the details bit by bit over the course of their flight across the ice. This keeps the reader hooked and wanting more in a way that an infodump would not have.
In addition, the author starts each chapter with a listing of how far the leads are from safety and how many days’ supply of food they have left. That keeps the tension building, and the story action takes it from there. As Ford and Angel travel, we see the dangers they face and we see them drawn closer together. In addition, in terms of suspense, we know that ice cores drilled by Ford are at the heart of the mystery and we see the tension rise as Angel and Ford try to figure out who the enemy is, why these cores are important, and why they and their co-workers are being targeted.
When reviewing romantic suspense, we often talk about the balance of suspense to romance, or we compare the development of the suspense plot and the romantic plot as if they are two separate things. That type of analysis simply does not work with Whiteout. The romantic tension and the suspense plotting are deeply intertwined and feed off of one another. The overall pacing in this book is fantastically done and both the protagonists’ escape across the ice as well as their growing attraction to one another seemed to develop organically.
There are a few missteps here and there in the book. For instance, Angel manages to get a job as cook at the research station, but it’s a little unclear why they would hire someone who has so little knowledge of or experience with that harsh climate. She seemed awfully unprepared for her surroundings.
And then there are the villains. I can enjoy untangling a good, multi-layered conspiracy. However, these folks sometimes came across as cartoonish. Their motives don’t entirely make sense, but it’s obvious that this book is first in a series, so perhaps these things will become more clear in later installments. Speaking of which, this book ends nicely with the last chapter and the epilogue is pretty much a set-up for book two – which I know I’ll be reading now.
Reviewers and readers speak often of books having a sagging middle. However, the middle is where Whiteout shines. The scenes of Ford and Angel crossing the ice are so well done. Things bobble a bit toward the end but the action just flows so well up until those last few chapters, and I greatly enjoyed myself. If you like romantic suspense with lots of tension, definitely give this one a try.