The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club was written by Alex Bell and is due for release this November. It is a middle grade fantasy story which focuses on team of brave explorers on an expedition to discover the coldest place on the planet. The novel is the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Stella Starflake Pearl knows that she is destined to become a great explorer. She has to be, as only explorers are given three names. She longs to join the prestigious Polar Bear Explorers’ Club, however knows that they are old fashioned and do not allow girls on their expeditions. However, her adoptive father, Felix, has never been one for rules. He convinces the head of the club to allow Stella to join them on one expedition to give her a chance to prove her worth.

As Stella sets out, she is quick to make acquaintances with the other kids on the expedition – wolf whisperer Shay, Beanie the half-elf and bad-tempered magician Ethan. Yet their mission to find the coldest part of the Icelands quickly goes awry. When an accident separates the four youths from their parents, they are forced to band together to survive in the frozen wastes and complete their quest.

Danger and adventure lie between Stella’s team and their goal. Along their journey they are forced to deal with frostbite, savage cabbages and, most terrifying of all, the huge and ferocious yeti. Stella is determined to prove that she can be an explorer. Yet, as she travels deeper into the Icelands, she also begins to learn more about where she came from. Stella has always known that she is different from other girls, but the truth of her origins is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined…

To put it simply, The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club is fantastic. Really, it is everything that I look for in a middle grade novel. It’s a very quick and easy read on the whole, remaining exciting and engaging throughout. It’s also clearly written with its target audience in mind and so doesn’t really contain anything that I would say is not suitable for readers aged ten and up. The tone of the story is well balanced, with a nice sense of humour counteracting the dramatic (and sometimes slightly scary) moments.

While the story is mostly self-contained, it should be noted that this novel is clearly intended to be the first book in a longer series. The epilogue carries a final creepy sting that paves the way for the next story. While I didn’t find this cliff-hanger to be especially offensive, I just thought that I’d mention it here in case – like me – you have an irrational hatred of the things. It just made me slightly frustrated to think that I’ll probably have to wait over a year to find out what happens next!

The world of The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club is both whimsical and charming. It mixed elements of classic faerie stories, such as The Snow Queen and The Red Shoes, with cute flourishes of the author’s own creation. If you like imaginative fantasy settings where anything is possible, this is certainly the book for you. It contains everything from a pygmy diplodocus bathing in Froot Loops (she has a skin complaint), to singing cucumbers, to portable volcanoes. Really, there was something new to discover on every page.

However, sometimes I did feel that the story was perhaps too busy. While I didn’t find this as objectionable as I did in the likes of the Archie Greene series, it did sometimes feel as though these things were included for whimsy’s sake as they didn’t always contribute to the story. Early in the story, we see that Beanie’s medical kit contains nothing other than two tiny Saint Bernards but he never uses this in the story (his healing consists of a mixture of magic and plasters). Similarly, Shay introduces the concept of a “Dream Snatcher” to capture nightmares, yet this artefact is destroyed after a single use and never mentioned again. While Bell’s imagination is clearly superb, sometimes it felt that perhaps a little too much was crammed into this story.

Yet please don’t take this as too much of a negative criticism as I did thoroughly enjoy the book, devouring it in only two sittings. It was one of those feel-good novels that was nearly impossible to put down. For me, its biggest draw was its characters. All four of the protagonists – Stella, Shay, Beanie and Ethan – were all very well written, each possessing their own clear strengths and weaknesses.

While Shay was probably the least interesting of the group, his wolf whispering power was massively useful and he came across as being the sensible and responsible big brother character. Ethan, while being obnoxiously whiny and cowardly, comes into his own as the reader discovers the tragic secret that has made him that way. Stella truly shines as the only female protagonist and the only member of the group with no special powers. Her optimism, bravery and resourcefulness made me take an instant liking to her.

Yet Beanie is the character that I really thought was well written. Beanie is described as being a little bit odd (mainly due to his elven blood), however this strangeness about him basically takes the form of autism. Beanie can’t understand humour or sarcasm, dislikes being touched, and has some fastidious eating habits. Yet Stella always treats him as she would anyone else, standing up for him when others discriminate and respecting his boundaries. This was wonderful. It’s actually the best portrayal of a character on the autistic spectrum that I have ever seen in a middle grade novel (even if Beanie isn’t technically autistic) and is a great way of teaching children how to behave around someone who is different to them.

I think that that just about covers everything, as I certainly don’t want to spoil any of this story for you before it even comes out. The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club is a fantastic start to the series, filled with action, whimsy, and brilliantly deep characters. It will make a great Christmas present for fans of faerie stories or the Harry Potter series.

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club is due for release on 2nd November and is currently available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2017 – Part 3 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Explorers on Witch Mountain | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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