Two Against the Ice is a smoothly and dramatically written book accessible to a wide range of young readers. Mason has a sense of dramatic structure that renders the episodic narrative virtually seamless and gives the reader a sense of involvement and immediacy in the adventure of polar exploration. Each episode builds to a dramatic climax, with the explorers facing and overcoming life-threatening situations on the ice and going on to reach their destinations and chart unexplored regions. Mason shows a deep understanding of the explorers’ life-style. The book includes myriad details about diet, health, pests, ships, navigation, cartography, weather, sled dogs, research methods, polar camping, and survival techniques. The chapter on the Gjoa expedition offers lengthy accounts of Amundsen’s encounters with isolated Arctic natives. Rather than establish a steady pace through historical chronology, Mason passes quickly over long stretches in his subjects’ lives and delves penetratingly into other sequences, sometimes recounting events day by day or hour by hour. This flexibility with temporal sequencing contributes to the suspense and urgency of each trial.
The plethora of details at times comes too quickly, especially when involving technical scientific or meteorological terminology, and sometimes leaves concepts unclear. Mason does not explain, for example, exactly how an explorer establishes that he or she is precisely over the North or South Pole, though the issue of location is clearly not a small one, even for the explorers themselves. He sometimes offers descriptions of the glacial landscape that do not quite convey...
(The entire section is 678 words.)