First and foremost, a big shout out to The Reading Room and Hachette for my free reading copy. Thanks!
With Perfect North debut author Jenny Bond takes a controversial but little-remembered piece of history and shapes it into a love story that kept me reading well into the night. In 1897 three men leave Stockholm in a hydrogen balloon; their intentions are to be the first men to reach the North Pole. It is not until 1930 that their remains are discovered on the island of Kvitoya. A few weeks later, journalist Knut Stubbendorff is sent to report from Kvitoya and discovers, among other things, a number of letters that one of the men, Nils Strindberg, had written to his fiancée, Anna.
From there, Bond clever uses a mix of historical events and more than a dash of artistic licence to shape an intriguing romance. Who was Anna and what secrets was she hiding? While the real life story of Anna Charlier is quite sad (she was devastated at the loss of her fiance and spent many years traveling in and out of mental institutions,) Bond paints a far more romantic picture. What if, at the time of Nils departure, Anna was torn between her feelings for Nils and those she had for his brother, Erik. What if Anna took some surprising secrets with her to the grave?
I found Perfect North to be a little confusing in places--as a reader, I struggled with the fact that the chapters jumped around quite a bit--but the love story between Nils, Anna and Erik and its implications, along with the careful retelling of the North Pole expedition and Knut's quest to discover the truth make up for those irritations. This is an unusual historic novel that is perfect when you're in the mood for a bittersweet romance with a bit of a difference.