The Arctic Code is the first book in a new MG sci-fi series by Matthew Kirby. I tend to like Kirby's books and the way he writes character relationships. The Arctic Code is no exception and has an exciting fast-paced plot to pull readers along on the adventure.
In a not so distant future, the Earth is experiencing an unexpected Ice Age. The ice sheet has taken over, forcing most of the surviving inhabitants toward the Equator. Energy is a coveted resource and the UN has given a great deal of power to a company called GET. Eleanor is a girl living in Arizona while her geologist mother works on finding a new energy source in Alaska. Eager for adventure, Eleanor is often doing things that most consider unwise. When her mom goes missing after sending Eleanor files of information with the warning to keep it all a secret, Eleanor stows away on a plane headed for Alaska to discover what has happened to her mom. Upon reaching Alaska, Eleanor discovers that mysterious sites are appearing on the ice sheet and GET is enforcing all sorts of new and menacing rules. Eleanor and her new friends, sons of another missing scientist, decide their best bet is to head into the frozen wasteland themselves to find their parents. What they end up finding, will change their view of the world and lead to a whole new set of troubles.
I don't typically like futuristic doomsday type of books whether post-apocalyptic, dystopian, or earth in peril. I also typically don't like survival stories. I wouldn't have picked this up at all if it hadn't had Matthew Kirby's name on the cover. (The cover does grab the eye and make you curious on its own though.) Despite the presence of two things I tend not to enjoy, I did enjoy this book. Kirby set up his story very well, and it is mostly a fast paced, edge of your seat adventure. (There is a scene in a science class early on where there is a lot of information given in the form of a lesson, but even that is executed well as Eleanor herself is bored. Well played.) Eleanor's every step is shadowed by fear. She knows GET is not entirely honest, and she doesn't want them to get a hold of the files her mom sent to her. And her meeting with the CEO and his minions later on only makes her more determined. There is also a fear of death, because survival in the harsh climate is no small matter. In Alaska the air is so cold breathing it in might kill you. Then the story morphs from being a perilous futuristic adventure to a sci-fi thriller with some fascinating twists. Not all of the elements of the plot are handled as completely as I want. Eleanor has an ability that isn't entirely explained. I'm sure it will be in future volumes, but for this as a stand alone it made her seem like a little too special in comparison with everyone who couldn't do this thing.
Eleanor is an excellent heroine despite this unexplained specialness though. And not simply because she is special. She is reckless, impatient, and rebellious. She is also brave, loyal, and incredibly smart. I do like that the reader gets to thoroughly know her as Eleanor before the reveals in the end. The opening scene has her creating snow using a fan and water at her school construction site while planning to sled down a dangerous incline from a partly finished building. She ends up getting arrested with two of her friends. Fortunately for the 12 year olds, no charges are pressed. But it is a perfect way to show everything Eleanor is to prepare for her actions as she recklessly hops a plane with a stranger to Alaska. That stranger is a pilot named Luke who wants no part in being responsible for a 12 year old girl, but given no choice he embraces his duty admirably. Luke is a good guy, but also a complicated one. I found myself really wanting more of him and hope that will happen as the series progresses. The other characters aren't developed quite as well, but Finn and Julian, the boys who set out with Eleanor into the frozen wild, have distinct personalities and interactions with her.
One aspect of the novel I particularly enjoyed was the fraught relationship between Eleanor and her mom. There is a lot of love there but also a lot of hurt and misunderstanding. This is the sort of relational writing Kirby excels at.
I'm eager to see where the next volume in this series takes the stories and characters. I know this will be an easy sell to kids. Kirby's books usually are.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Balzer & Bray, at ALA Midwinter. The Arctic Code is on sale April 28th.