Explorers on Black Ice Bridge

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

The Polar Bear Explorers Club | Explorers on Witch Mountain

Explorers on Black Ice Bridge was written by Alex Bell and first published in 2019. It follows the continuing adventures of Stella Starflake Pearl as she heads to one of the most dangerous places on the planet in search of a cure for her ailing friend. The novel forms the third part of The Polar Bear Explorers Club series, following on directly from where The Polar Bear Explorers Club (2017) and Explorers on Witch Mountain (2018 – published as The Forbidden Expedition in the US). Due to this, I would strongly recommend reading them in sequence if you want to fully appreciate them.

Things do not look good for Stella and her friends. Following their adventure on Witch Mountain, Felix has been stripped of his title and banished from the club. To make matters worse, Gideon has falsely accused Stella of using her magic against him, so there is also now a warrant for her arrest. This could not have come at a worse time, as Shay and Koa are growing sicker by the day. The only possible cure for them lies on the other side of the Black Ice Bridge, in the pages of Stella’s long-lost Book of Frost.

Naturally, friendship comes before everything else and Stella is quick to use her magic to escape. Yet, due to the fact that they no longer have any connections to the club, they are less prepared than ever before. No explorer has ever returned from the Black Ice Bridge, not even Beanie’s father in his ill-fated expedition eight years previously. The Explorers do not know what they will find, especially as rumours state that the bridge may lead to the very edge of the world.

Soon, Stella, Shay, Ethan and Beanie find themselves separated from the adults once again. They now can only use their wits, magic and meagre supplies to survive on the deadly bridge. But can they reach the other side in time when who knows what dangers lie in their way?

The Polar Bear Explorers Club series is certainly one that has gone from strength to strength. While I enjoyed the previous two instalments, I was pleased to find that Explorers on Black Ice Bridge felt far more focused than Explorers on Witch Mountain. It picked up only a few weeks after the previous book left off and was quick to whisk Stella and her friends away on a brand-new adventure. This time around, the story had a very tight time limit as Shay is growing visibly weaker and Koa is clearly transforming into an evil, soul-stealing Witch Wolf.

As with the previous instalments, the biggest draw of Explorers on Black Ice Bridge is Bell’s incredible imagination. It really is a world where anything can happen and the protagonists are forced to tangle with evil Ice Princesses, giant squid, dragons, mermaids and more as they finally venture across the Black Ice Bridge. To see them finally explore this ominous landmark was especially exciting, as its danger has been frequently referenced throughout the series.

While I criticised Explorers on Witch Mountain for feeling too cluttered, this time the story felt as though it had been streamlined. The huge cast has been pruned back down to the four young heroes (plus one gentleman flamingo, who may now be my favourite thing ever). The result is a fast-paced and exciting tale. Despite the severity of Stella’s mission, the story never becomes overly dark as the random encounters and strange creatures that they meet along the way after often incredibly funny.

The novel also still carries a very positive message, as Stella is now slowly starting to realise that not all Explorers are a virtuous as Felix. Through her adventures, she is beginning to see the problems with allowing a few rich old men to control the Explorers due to the inflexibility and corruption that this breeds. In one particularly poignant scene, Stella compares the Explorer code with the simple ethics of kindness that Melville the Flamingo follows as a true gentlemen. This is very sweet, and also carries strong implications in the real world where we are all painfully aware of the damage that can be caused by people in high places.

The plot builds to an exciting climax which neatly wraps up this stage of Stella’s journey. As with previous instalments, there are still many loose ends left hanging to be addressed in a sequel, but Stella still had chance to thoroughly explore the Black Ice Bridge and reveal all of its secrets. The ending also allowed Stella further understand her powers as an Ice Princess, leaving me very curious to see how she will use this newfound knowledge going forward.

As with the previous instalments, the cast was incredibly strong. While Stella’s acceptance of her heritage has been slowly developing since the first book, I loved the fact that Explorers on Black Ice Bridge also took the time to focus on both Beanie and Ethan. Beanie’s ties to the Black Ice Bridge are stronger than the rest and I enjoyed finally learning the truth behind his father’s disappearance. Ethan’s story arc was a lot more subtle, as he has started to acknowledge the fact that he can sometimes be a bully. I loved the way that the novel gently addressed this, particularly as he goes out of his way to take care of Melville.

Explorers on Black Ice Bridge also introduced the first true villain of the series. While I don’t want to talk about this too much here due to spoilers, I will just say that I think that this character is a great inclusion. I loved the similarities that they seem to have with Stella and felt that their motivation made a lot of sense, despite being more than a little extreme. I look forward to seeing what will happen when Stella next encounters them.

I think that just about covers everything. All in all, Explorers on Black Ice Bridge was fantastic. It is certainly the strongest entry to this series to date as it was focused, exciting and amazingly creative. I certainly can’t wait to see where Stella’s adventures will take her next.

Explorers on Black Ice Bridge can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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