Win £500 in book vouchers by helping us with a 7 minute reader survey click here.

twitter Harry Potter House Eds
Search our site
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn Read the opening extract of the brand new A. J. Finn book before its publication on 22/01/2018

Reader Reviewed
Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney

Under a Pole Star

Literary Fiction   Books of the Month   Books of the Year 2016   Historical Fiction   Reading Groups   eBook Favourites   
Download an extract Discuss on Facebook Discuss this book on our Literary Contemporary Facebook group Share this book

Lovereading view...

One of our Books of the Year 2016.

Flora Mackie leads a remarkable life. Daughter of a whaling captain, with her mother dead, she spent many of her teenage years sailing with him and living with the Inuit of Greenland. When grown, it naturally suits her to join an Arctic expedition with a British scientific team. Jakob de Beyn’s obsession with ice and glaciers also leads him north with an American expedition. Though they meet only briefly, he and Flora live similar lives with many parallels and some extraordinary stories. Hardship and determination colour both to the point where it is the Arctic that feels like home and the civilised Victorian world that seems hostile, and it is those sections that I found the most thrilling. Stef Penney’s book is huge; in length, in distances crossed, in ideas, in drama. Her elegant prose is a joy to read. Stretching from 1883 to 1948, it is not a novel of one thing only; not a portrait of a time, not a love story, not a cultural exploration, not an adventure story but all these things together, making it, above all, an excellent read. ~ Sarah Broadhurst

November 2016 Book of the Month.

A 'Piece of Passion' from the publisher...

Dear Reader,

I hope you’re wrapped up warm. Within these pages are driving blizzards, weeping glaciers and a sea frozen into concrete – all conjured so realistically that you may find your breath misting in front of you as you read. Stef Penney’s power to create a world remote in time and place that feels as real as the book you are holding is unparalleled, and in Under a Pole Star she outdoes even her stunning achievements in The Tenderness of Wolves.

Although this book has a cold setting, it has a warm heart. I fell completely in love with clever, wry Flora Mackie and her determination to be an Arctic explorer. As she overcomes all obstacles to be seen as a real scientist and a true leader, I hope you will be as swept up in her adventures and her life-changing love affair as I was.

Under a Pole Star is a truly epic story that will stay with you long after you read it. Enjoy the journey.

Jane Wood, Publisher, Quercus

If you like Stef Penney you might also like to read books by Leif Enger, Joseph Boyden and Barbara Kingsolver.

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.

  • Alison Battye - 'Stef Penney's writing is stunningly beautiful...This is a sensuous and beguiling story of love, loss and discovery.'
  • Sarah Musk - 'A breathtaking book about polar exploration in the late nineteenth century. It has it all - love, rivalry, hardship.  Everyone who reads this book will be mesmerised.'
  • Humaira - 'It was brilliant. It was Beautiful. It was everything you need in a book.'
  • Sarah Davis - 'a beautiful and evocative read.'
  • Jane Macleod - 'A beautiful historical story, with great atmosphere.  A real eye opener to a past life and the role of women.'
  • Bev Farningham - 'A well-researched and written novel.'
  • Lou Woods - 'The ambitions of men, and the hopes of women, wrapped up in an epic journey through ice and heartbreak. Absorbing, yet somehow for me unsatisfying.'
  • Sandra Rabiasz - 'Beautifully described golden age of exploration and the story of its pioneers.'
  • Annie Day - 'The story is beautifully told, with evocative descriptions of life on a whaling ship, Inuit customs and the stunning Arctic landscape.'
  • Rachel Gray - 'Overall I thought this was a novel that contains some beautiful descriptions of the Arctic, but unfortunately lacks enough character development to really pull me in.'
  • Edel Waugh - 'This is a book you will remember long after you have finished the last page. I highly recommend this if you enjoy stories about the golden age of exploration.'
  • Angela Rhodes - 'is one of the most beautiful, captivating novels I have ever read, this is not just a story about an expedition, it has romance, courage, strong women, handsome men, I loved it!!'
  • Vicky-Leigh Sayer - 'Please don’t let the 600+ page length of this novel put you off reading, for me it didn’t seem long at all, and was well worth the time invested.'
  • Hannah Ward - The amount of research that must of gone into this book is outstanding...It was awe inspiring to read about Flora and the era'.
  • Victoria Emerson - The writing is excellent as always and the description of the Arctic is spot on. There is much to like about this book, but it is very long and in parts slow.'

Win a signed book proof of Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn

Get into the Spirit of Christmas with our special SIGNED COPY competition! We are giving away one very desirable book proof of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir's 2nd novel in her Six Tudor Queens historical fiction series.

To have a chance of winning one of these fantastic prizes, click the button below. Please note that this draw is open only for UK residents and is free to enter, multiple entries from the same email address will only be counted once.

The draw closes on 4 December 2017. The winners will be notified by 11th December 2017.

Good luck!

Enter prize draw Draw closes: 04/12/2017


Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney

COSTA WINNING AUTHOR Stef Penney returns to the wild Arctic setting she brought so vividly to life in THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES, in an epic story of ambition, perseverance and love against the odds. Perfect for fans of TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD and THE ESSEX SERPENT. 'A supreme storyteller' Sunday Times

Flora Mackie first crossed the Arctic Circle at the age of twelve. In 1889, the whaler's daughter from Dundee - dubbed by the press 'The Snow Queen' - sets out to become a scientist and explorer. She struggles to be taken seriously but determination and chance lead her back to northern Greenland at the head of a British expedition, despite the many who believe that a young woman has no place in this harsh world of men. Geologist Jakob de Beyn was raised in Manhattan. Yearning for wider horizons, he joins a rival expedition, led by the furiously driven Lester Armitage. When Jakob and Flora's paths cross, it is a fateful meeting. All three become obsessed with the north, a place where violent extremes exist side by side: perpetual night and endless day; frozen seas and coastal meadows; heroism and lies. Armitage's ruthless desire to be the true leader of polar discovery takes him and his men on a mission whose tragic outcome will reverberate for years to come. Set against the stark, timeless beauty of northern Greenland, and fin-de-siecle New York and London, Under a Pole Star is a compelling look at the dark side of the 'golden age' of exploration, a study of the corrosive power of ambition, and an epic, incendiary love story. It shows that sometimes you have to travel to the furthest edge of the world in order to find your true place in it.


'A suspenseful epic, offering a leitmotif of constant unease... impressive' Guardian

'Unquestionably atmospheric, evocative and ... rewarding Independent on Sunday A tense and delicately written thriller' Observer

'A remarkable literary debut ... brilliantly assured, subtly written' Scotsman

'Penney's evocation of the frozen lands of northern Canada couldn't ring truer if she'd spent months wandering through the land with nothing but a pack of huskies and a native tracker for company' Guardian

'Within the first fifty pages I was completely in love. It is a testimony to the power of good writing that it can present you with a world that you think you know nothing about, but by the end [of the book] you feel you own it' -- Armando Iannucci

'This subtle and superb novel brings the freezing landscape of the Canadian woods to such vivid life that the landscape itself becomes a strong character within the story' Crimesquad

'An absorbing and stylish mystery' Glasgow Herald

'A first-rate gripper with a notably sensual as well as psychological understanding of its main characters' Globe and Mail

About the Author

Stef Penney

Stef Penney was born and grew up in Edinburgh. After a degree in Philosophy and Theology from Bristol University she turned to film-making, studying Film and TV at Bournemouth College of Art. On graduation she was selected for the Carlton Television New Writers Scheme and has since written and directed two short films. She is the author of The Tenderness of Wolves and The Invisible Ones.

Author photo © Ian Phillips McLaren

More books by this author
Author 'Like for Like' recommendations

Loading similar books...
Loading other formats...

Book Info

Publication date

3rd November 2016


Stef Penney

More books by Stef Penney
Author 'Like for Like'

Author's Website


Quercus Publishing


608 pages


Literary Fiction
Books of the Month
Books of the Year 2016
Historical Fiction
Reading Groups
eBook Favourites

Historical fiction



Lovereading tells me about new books before they hit the shelves, lets me find other authors I may like and has great prize draws!

Sheila Dale

Ever purchased a book, read a few pages & thought I'm not going to enjoy this? Honest book reviews mean you'll never have that problem again

Jill Peters

Their sending me my first book to review 18 months ago re-awakened my fondness for reading, since then I have purchased some real gems.

Barry Griffiths

Lovereading is pitched at just the right level for all the various types of people who enjoy reading in its many forms.

Pam Woodburn

I read new, exciting writers and established authors before publication and there is a great website full of brilliant books and opinions.


I 'Lovereading' because it lets me see what new books are around with a detailed synopsis and readers' reviews.

Judith Sharp

Books of the month/debuts of the month, kids/adults, fiction/non-fiction, free prize draws and free extracts, what's not to love?

Emma Smith

You'll always find what you never knew you were looking for and you're always spoilt for choice.

Helen Jones