From School Library Journal
YA-A riveting fictionalized account of Robert Falcon Scott's doomed British expedition to the South Pole in 1910, related through the diary entries of five of its members. Bainbridge conveys a vivid sense of the era and of the pride, idealism, and bravado of the explorers as they prepare for their adventure. Once they reach Antarctica, their attention turns to the excitement and pleasure in the scenic and scientific discoveries that await them. But in the final analysis, it is their courage and fortitude that shine through in the face of failure (the Norwegian Amundsen beat them to the South Pole by a month) and the realization that they will not survive.
This novel had me cheering and sobbing, it's chocked full of courage and although it is fiction, it reads like it's true. Somehow Mr Bainbridge's words got into my bones and i could not let go. Brutal as the Antarctic existence can be, one wants to live to return and tell the story, but when it is realized that that will not happen, life changes in a blink of an eye. There is nothing more serious as death watching you, knowing there is no where to run. This is deep, so deep it crawls inside of your mind and you will carry it for sometime. This is what i personally look for in a perfect read.
If you are new to the story of Robert Falcon Scott, and his four companions, who were beaten to the South Pole by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and died in their attempt to get back to home base, then this novel isn't the place to start. (One place to start: "The Worst Journey in the World," by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a member of Scott's final expedition.) This novel consists of five first person stream of consciousness "reflections," which depend on some knowledge of the legend of the tragedy, and its key characters: the "noble" leader Scott; scientist Wilson; plucky, gung-ho team player "Birdie" Bowers; taciturn, self-sacrificing Oates; and the "gentle giant" (and only representative of the non-officer class) Petty Officer Evans.
Without knowing the cliches that these five men were turned into, in the "Boy's Own" fairytale that their disastrous mission became in the 100+ years since their death, I don't think it would be obvious just how cleverly Bainbridge puts flesh on bones that hero-worship had stripped of most of their humanity. While revisionist histories put the blame squarely on Scott, as a poor leader who made very bad choices, Bainbridge does a remarkable job of channeling the voices of the five, demonstrating how the weaknesses of each one (and even their strengths) contributed to the tragedy. And at the same time, she gives credit to the power of the legend, leaving the reader with a sense of profound sadness that such good intentions and --yes, let's be old fashioned for a moment -- nobility should have ended so badly. I'm greatly looking forward to Bainbridge's take on the Titanic ("Every Man for Himself") -- another tragedy that might have ended very differently if only one person in a position of authority had thought for a moment and said, "Hey, wait ...."
So if you're familiar with the story of Robert Falcon Scott, I highly recommend this novel for its canny insights into the characters involved, and how an expedition that was supposed to demonstrate an Empire's strength of technology and character went so badly wrong. And if you are new to the story of Robert Falcon Scott ... it's a great story. And this wonderful novel will be waiting for you.