The Ice Master
The doomed 1913 voyage of the Karluk

It was to be the greatest and most elaborate Arctic expedition in history, with the largest scientific staff ever taken on such a journey. Its leader, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, was celebrated for his studies of Eskimo life and, with this mission, hoped to find evidence that proved his staunchly held belief that there was a last unexplored continent, hidden beneath the vast polar ice cap.

In June 1913, the H.M.C.S. Karluk set sail from the Esquimalt Naval Yard in Victoria, British Columbia. Six weeks later, the Arctic winter had begun, the ship was imprisoned in ice, and those on board had been abandoned by their leader.

For five months, the Karluk remained frozen in a massive block of ice, drifting farther and farther off course. In January 1914, with a thunderous impact, the ice tore a hole in the vessel's hull, and the redoubtable captain, Robert Bartlett, gave orders to abandon ship.

With nothing but half the ship's store of supplies and the polar ice beneath their feet, Captain Bartlett, twenty-one men, an Inuit woman and her two small daughters, twenty-nine dogs, and one pet cat were now hopelessly shipwrecked in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of miles from land. These castaways had no choice but to try to find solid ground where they could wait while they struggled against starvation, snow blindness, a gruesome and mysterious disease, exposure to the brutal winter — and each other.

Bartlett and one member of the party soon set across the ice to seek help. Nine months later, twelve survivors were rescued by a small whaling schooner and brought back to civilization.

The Ice Master is an epic tale of true adventure that rivals the most dramatic fiction. Drawing on the diaries of those who were rescued and those who perished, and even an interview with one living survivor, Jennifer Niven re-creates with astonishing accuracy and immediacy the Karluk's ill-fated journey and her crew's desperate attempts to find a way home from the icy wastes of the Arctic.

bn amazon indiebound

One of Entertainment Weekly's Top Ten Books of the Year for 2000

The Ice Master, both a celebration and a terrifying summation of the ferocity of nature, is a riveting read. But cozy up to this one with a quilt.Entertainment Weekly

Into Thin Air meets Titanic in this truly chilling adventure.Glamour

Niven dishes up a Lord of the Flies-style reversion to the primitive state.The New York Times

An appropriately chilling account of the voyage of the Karluk... Jennifer Niven assembles her characters with all the skill of an experienced novelist.The London Sunday Times

For more than 30 years I have been reading polar stories, but none so gripping and meticulously based on the written accounts of the survivors as The Ice Master. Jennifer Niven has done polar history, and anyone who reads this remarkable book, a great favour.Ranulph Fiennes for The Daily Mail


A harrowingly good story.Fergus Fleming for The Literary Review