Five Novels Inspired By Svalbard

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Add a little chill to your bookshelf with a book inspired by the unique, raw, and sometimes hostile environment of Svalbard.

My bucket list of places I want to see while I'm living in Norway seems to go on forever. But last year I finally managed to tick off Svalbard. I'm so glad I did.

Snowmobile drivers exploring Svalbard.
Snowmobile drivers exploring Svalbard.

I wanted to discover the close-knit community of Longyearbyen, to see who lives there and why. I wanted to experience the isolation, to see if it would affect me even in a short-space of time.

But I realise not everyone can get to Svalbard. For one thing, it's expensive to fly there. The housing shortage in Longyearbyen and growing tourism means that hotel space is limited, and therefore expensive.

But one thing I quickly realised was that you don't need to visit Svalbard to be inspired by Svalbard.

Several novelists have done the work for you, and produced books set in or inspired by the icy wilderness. Here are five of them that I'd recommend. Sit back and enjoy!

Bear Island by Alistair MacLean

A classic tale of adventure on a mysterious Arctic island, from the acclaimed master of action and suspense.

Buy Bear Island on Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

A converted fishing trawler carries a production crew across the Barents Sea for some on-location filming, but the script is kept a secret, known only to the producer and screenwriter.

On the way to remote Bear Island, members of the crew begin to die under mysterious circumstances. It seems that nearly everyone in the crew had secrets and were not who they claimed to be.

The story is told through the voice of the on-board doctor, and his efforts to unravel the truth become ever more complicated as the ship reaches Bear Island.

A gripping and entertaining read.

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

A genuinely terrifying ghost story set in the haunting wilderness of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago.

Buy Dark Matter on Amazon

In the mid-1930s, a British man in his twenties jumps a the chance to change his mediocre life when he is offered the chance to join an expedition to the Norwegian Arctic.

The crew of five men and eight huskies are in good spirits and they reach a remote uninhabited bay ready to set camp for the following twelve months.

But the endless light of the Arctic Summer doesn't forever. As the winter darkness begins to envelop their camp, Jack starts to feel uneasy.

As his companions are forced to leave, should he stay or should he go?

The North by Martti Nissinen

What the Germans really did in ice-covered Svalbard during the Second World War has remained a mystery.

In fact, the Allies had tracked the abnormal density of German warships in the Far North, but they connected that traffic with their own convoy activity.

The British had their chance to open up the secrecy in 1943. Then a Catalina flying boat flew over the Spitsbergen. To the great surprise of the pilots they met a big fleet of German warships heading to the inner waters of Svalbard.

The pilots reported the heavy battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst with at least ten destroyer-class ships there. For what purpose was that fleet there? The Admiralty, however, was tightly focused on the convoys. Inner Svalbard appeared a useless objective.

So, officially, the pilots’ report wasn’t registered and the further investigation was rocked by anti-aircraft fire.

In this techno-thriller the author Martti Nissinen takes us on extraordinary voyage and guide the reader into the guarded wartime mystery of the North.

Well-researched war history, professional knowledge of the physical details and personal experience of the Svalbard regions support the narration.

True North: Travels in Arctic Europe by Gavin Francis

The stark, vast beauty of the remote Arctic Europe landscape has been the focus of human exploration for thousands of years.

Buy True North on Amazon

In this striking blend of travel writing, history and mythology, Gavin Francis offers a unique portrait of the northern fringes of Europe.

His journey begins in the Shetland Isles, takes him to the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and on to Lapland.

Following in the footsteps of the region's early pioneers, Francis observes how the region has adapted to the 21st century, giving an observed insight into the lives of people he encounters along the way.

As with all the best travel writing, ‘True North' is an engaging, compassionate tale of self-discovery, whilst blending historical and contemporary narratives in the tradition of Bruce Chatwin and Robert Macfarlane.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Armed polar bears patrolling Svalbard? Oh yes. Lyra Belacqua is content to run wild among the scholars of Jodan College, with her daemon familiar always by her side.

Buy The Golden Compass on Amazon

But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armored bears.

And as she hurtles toward danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, this more-than-mortal battle.

Philip Pullman's award-winning The Golden Compass is a masterwork of storytelling and suspense, critically acclaimed and hailed as a modern fantasy classic. Of course, it's now become the successful ‘His Dark Materials' TV show.

Note: this book is called ‘The Golden Compass' in the USA and ‘Northern Lights' in the UK.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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2 thoughts on “Five Novels Inspired By Svalbard”

  1. Golden compass and the northern lights are two separate books. Northern lights is the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy, then it is The Subtle knife, and finally, the Amber Spyglass, which is what it is called in the UK. However, in the US, it may be called Golden compass, much like the film version. The trilogy is by Philip Pullman.


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