This is just the sort of book I don't read. Its macho cover and even more macho title - stamped with stylised ice block-like lettering on an apocalyptic snowbound wasteland - would usually be sufficient to send me scurrying off to another corner of the bookshop - not necessarily to the corner inhabited by books decorated with shopping trolleys (or prams) and high heels, but to another corner nonetheless. I'd never even looked at the pictures - let alone read - any accounts of polar exploration until this book came my way. It made me wish I had.
The cover is misleading. While Riding the Ice Wind does what it says on the tin - delivering a boyzone tale of adventure, endurance and camaraderie in one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet - it delivers so much more. At one level, Riding the Ice Wind is a simple a-to-b narrative, a "first we went here and did this, then we went there and did that" account in the conventional travelogue format. Like all good adventure stories, it begins by introducing readers to a hefty challenge, a likeable hero and a sheaf of significant risks. The reader turns the pages because they want to know whether the challenge is achieved, the hero saved and the risks surmounted. I turned the pages - later in the night and more rapidly than expected - for other reasons.
Aside from the extraordinary nature of the feat achieved - which, as one unfamilar with the tradition of polar exploration, I am less qualified to comment on - this book is compelling because it tackles with remarkable honesty the questions that keep us all awake at night. Male or female, rich or poor, feted explorer or Wandsworth mother and housewife, we will all, at some point, ask of our own lives: is this it then? is this all I'm capable of? These universal questions are explored not with abstract philosophical theory but with a nakedness and subjectivity that is markedly childlike. This subjectivity, far from being a flaw, is what gives the interior journey in this book its strength. The very personal tensions the author happily lays bare, skilllfully woven in to descriptions of life-threatening cold and crippling frostbite, are disquieting in their familiarity. Vere Nicoll's tug-of-war is not just with his kite. It is not compelling simply because of what it reveals about the mind of a polar explorer but because it is as common in Antarctica as it is in suburbia. By asking why, as well as describing how, the author has taken a genre with a traditionally narrow readership and made it accessible to practically everybody.
"...fresh as a daisy... challenging, intelligent and thoughtful. Riding the Ice Wind reminds us that decent writing about tough adventure need not be a thing of the past. A hundred years ago there was a great explorer with a literary soul and the ability to write well. Alastair Vere Nicoll may not be Ernest Shackleton, but he's living proof that while the literary explorer may be an endangered species, there are still a few out there, if you know where to look." -- Nick Smith, for Bookdealer
“... a superbly engaging account of an impossibly hard trip. Its originality, however, lies in its sensitivity to the purpose of such expeditions to the have-it-all generation.” -- Dr. Richard Lofthouse, Oxford Today
"...lovely descriptions of the wilderness. The real voyage at the heart of the book, though, is the attempt to discover meaning in a life the writer had found increasingly mediocre." -- Clover Stroud, Sunday Telegraph
"A remarkable journey in the footsteps of Roald Amundsen, the first man to the South Pole. Riding the Ice Wind is a thoroughly engaging and personal story that makes the mental landscape of a polar expedition relevant to the myriad decisions and struggles we face in real life - and from which we often wish to escape." - Sir Ranulph Fiennes
"In turns funny, touching, inspiring, and painful, it was a wonderful story that only got better with a second reading. Full of humor and wisdom, yearning and disillusionment, victory and failure, it is a wonderful book and a worthy read for anyone." -- Goodreads.com
"This is a heart-led account of one of the longest, hardest polar journeys of recent years. It is a testament that enduring hardship isn't about bravado but about a quiet, at times faltering, daily decision to endure." -- Bear Grylls, Man vs. Wild
"It's extremely heartening to discover, through a text that is beautifully and powerfully written, that a younger generation of adventurers has got what it takes - and more. They prove themselves worthy successors to their heroes, Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott." -- John Hare, author of Mysteries of the Gobi
"An original and compelling book that really gets into the psyche of adventure and the conflict between the call of responsibility and the desire for freedom. I thoroughly enjoyed it." -- Jonny Bealby, Wild Frontiers