cover image Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk

Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk

Buddy Levy. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-27444-1

Journalist Levy (Labyrinth of Ice) delivers a thrilling account of Canada’s first “foray into Arctic exploration,” the ill-fated voyage of the steam-powered brigantine Karluk in 1913. Under the command of Capt. Bob Bartlett, the Karluk was the principal ship of the 1913–1916 Canadian Arctic Expedition led by explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Shortly after setting sail in June, it became clear to Bartlett that the Karluk had been improperly chosen and outfitted for the journey: the engine periodically gave out and essential supplies had been loaded onto her sister ships. By early August, the Karluk was completely icebound. Soon thereafter, expedition leader Stefansson headed off with five men to hunt caribou and never returned. (He reached safety, but decided to continue the expedition rather than try to rescue the Karluk.) In January, “a great jagged fang of ice” pierced the ship’s hull and it sank. Hoping to find game, driftwood for fuel, and a place to shelter until the summer, the survivors made a dash across the ice pack to Wrangel Island. From there, Bartlett and an Inuit hunter set out on a 700-mile trek seeking help; in September, the remaining 12 survivors (out of 25 crewmembers left behind by Stefansson) were rescued. Full of evocative descriptions, harrowing action scenes, and incisive character sketches, this is a worthy addition to the literature of Arctic exploration. (Dec.)