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The Ice Master

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Original price
$4.00 - $4.00
Current price $4.00

In the 1870s whaling was North America's biggest business. Successful voyages south, to the warm waters of Melville's great white whale, or north, to the Arctic, brought back ships laden with the whale oil that lit the lamps of the civilized world and the whalebone that stiffened its corsets. Many of the fortune seekers in this harsh trade lost their lives, while others became millionaires. In James Houston's exciting new adventure novel it is the spring of 1875. Two ships set sail from Connecticut, traveling north together to the Baffin Island Arctic whaling grounds. One ship is captained by a hard-as-nails Yankee veteran, a man who knows how to deal with mutineers. The other falls to the command of a young Newfoundlander, an expert at sailing through ice fields in a wooden hull - an "Ice Master" - but inexperienced in the specialized, bloody trade of Arctic whaling. Fierce conflicts arise between the two men as they struggle for control during a year-long stay with whale-hunting Inuit at their base on the shores of Baffin Island, where the seamen and the local people find exciting ways of whiling away the long winter nights. To the drama of the whale hunts is added the dangers of dog-team trips inland, involving terrifying encounters with polar bears. At the whaling station further drama is added by a rivalry with a nearby group of Scottish whalers and an encounter with their dreaded missionary, and a feud with a local shaman, a woman possessed of uncanny powers. Then both ships face the long, creaking, perilously heavy-laden voyage back to New England with a fortune on board. From Amazon. Few non-Native people know the Canadian Arctic as well as the artist, writer, and adventurer James Houston, who returns to the cold bays of Baffin Island in this novel, which is loosely based on actual events. An ice master, one of Houston's characters explains, "is a captain who takes his vessel into ice during the early spring season"--a challenge today in an age of high-power cutters, and even more so in the days of wooden brigantines. The Ice Master relates a voyage made in 1875 by two such ships to the old whaling port of Blacklead Island, where expeditions set out to chase bowhead whales until, Houston writes, "John D. Rockefeller with his development of Ohio and Pennsylvania rock oil all but ended the grim Arctic whaling trade." Houston writes effectively of the whalers' perilous life, and, as in his now-classic novel The White Dawn, of the often tragic meeting of Europeans and Inuit peoples. Houston's dialogue is sometimes stilted and anachronistic ("nothing unusual about having a horny sailor for a father"), but his observations of life on the ice are sharp and true. --Gregory McNamee Review. "A riveting tale of a long-gone life...His rendering of life on Arctic-bound ships and at Arctic hunting camps is unforgiving and unforgettable...The climax is gripping, terrifying and masterfully drawn." -Boston Globe. "A man's adventure story...The book is strong on the details of life in the Arctic, and paints a plausible picture of life on a whaling expedition; descriptions of Inuit life and ways are, by and large, both instructive and respectful." -Vancouver Sun. "Houston's knowledge of the Inuit people and their culture is astounding, as The Ice Master proves time and time again. And his description of the Arctic is both powerful and sometimes frightening - a cold, lonely world that can do strange things to men's minds." -Toronto Star