Fortunate enough to be sent an ARC of Thirst, the second novel by Australian writer, LA Larkin, I spent a cold, rainy afternoon devouring this page-turning adventure in one sitting. While you could liken it to Matthew Riley’s Ice Station, I much preferred this and feel it’s more comparable, for various reasons, to Dan Brown’s Deception Point (set in the opposite pole), though fans of either writer would consume this original novel with pleasure.
Set in Antarctica in present times, Thirst is best described as an eco-thriller that has as its protagonist, the rebellious and solitary but very ethical glaciologist, Luke Searle. Part of an Australian team over-wintering at Hope Station on Pine Island Glacier (or PIG, as it’s known), a small group led by the headstrong Maddie Wildman, Searle is a brilliant researcher and expert not only on glaciers, but climate change and as it conveniently happens, radios.
The book opens with a countdown that reduces over the course of the story, adding to the tension created in the first chapter when hostile intruders accost two of the PIG team. With a blizzard threatening, a rescue party is sent out to account for the missing members and, it’s on the team’s return to base that Searle and Wildman’s abilities and trust in each other are put to a brutal and relentless test.
Segueing between Sydney, China and the Antarctic, the story is fast-paced and, despite some initially clichéd villains (cultural stereo-type warning issued), utterly gripping. The gradual unfolding of the main characters’ backgrounds creates a context for their current choices and later actions and adds a satisfying depth that’s often lacking in books in this ouevre.
Oft-times unpredictable, the action builds quickly and furiously and the descriptions of Antarctica add a chilling frisson (forgive the pun) that keeps you turning the pages.
Larkin clearly has a passion for the environment and a sound knowledge of climate change. The refreshing thing is that though the book can be didactic, the lessons offered do not sacrifice plot, story or characters, which remain strong and consistent throughout. The twists are not obvious and the cliffhanger endings to chapters keep you both guessing and reading.
My only criticism (and this may be because I received an ARC and not the finished book), is I feel a map of the glacier and surrounds would have been really helpful. In books of this kind where location is so important, I would have liked to ground the action and movements of the various groups within the cartography. But this is a minor point in an otherwise excellent addition to the genre.
Overall, this was a fast-paced and furious book that grips you from the first page, holds you in its icy thrall, and doesn’t release you until the nail-biting climax. A terrific read.