This book follows the bears of the Northern Kingdom, specifically cubs First and Second and their journey across the Ice. An organization of evil bears called the Timekeepers who worship a sacred Clock that is supposed to predict the next Great Melting. But they are corrupt and First and Second must do everything they can to revive the the rebellion and save all the bears.
I give this book 3.5 stars (out of five). I ended up reading this book because a friend of mine really loved it and even let me borrow her copy of the book. This author made a fictional universe in which multiple separate book series are connected, so there’s different characters and plots but they’re all set in the same universe. Before I reviewed any of the first books in these series I read all of them, so as of now I have read all the first books.
This one is about polar bears living in the Nunquivik. The main characters in this story are two polar bear cubs called First and Second because polar bears don’t get real or unique names until they get older. But of course, as things happen to do in books, things go wrong.
[Slight spoiler warning, in the next few sentences I explain a plot point that is revealed throughout the course of the book, here I just explained it all at once. If you don’t want to read a relatively important reveal then you might need to skip the plot summary for this review.]
A group of bears called The Timekeepers of the Ice Cap are cub-napping, sacrificing and enslaving young bears to an Ice Clock, built ages ago to predict the next Great Melting which was the worst tragedy known to the bears. The group of bears started worshiping the clock and held it as a god or religious figure, they started sacrificing cubs to the clock to try and prevent or prepare for another melting. To get cubs to sacrifice to the clock a team of bears called Roguers go around and demand that mothers give up their cubs with threats, intimidation and force.
When the Roguers visit Svenna, First and Second’s Mom, she obviously doesn’t want them to take her cubs, so in desperation she offers herself in her place. Most bears living in the area are uneducated so they wouldn’t be of much use to the Timekeepers but Svenna was raised in the Ga’Hoole (where the Owls from the connected universe are from), so she can read, write and is academically capable.
The Roguers agree to let her take the place of her cubs and give her some time to organize another mother to take them in. Svenna doesn’t have much time or options so she arranges to have First and Second stay with a distant cousin named Taaka and spends what time she has left with her cubs trying to teach them how to hunt and survive on their own.
It turns out, Taaka is a terrible bear. The second Svenna leaves she completely changes from being somewhat okay, to just being mean. Firstly, she insists they change names because her cubs are also named First, Second and Third so she changes their names to Fourth and Fifth. (For some contect Third is a small cub and Taaka also mistreats him).
Then she doesn’t give them food, yells at them, won’t let them outside and treats them unfairly. Eventually it becomes clear to First and Second that she isn’t planning on raising them and is actually starving them and waiting for them to die so she can eat them. Right away after the cubs realize what’s going on they sneak away in the night and run away on their own. They decide to head North for the hunting grounds to find their Father, although male bears aren’t usually responsible for raising bear cubs they didn’t really have any other options.
When they finally arrived at the hunting grounds they ran into an old blind bear named Moon Eyes, when he was a cub he was taken by the Roguers and blinded when he tried to escape. But afterwards they grew careless with his guarding, they assumed he wouldn’t try to escape but he did and got away. He tells the cubs his story and about the Roguers and sends them off again since cubs shouldn’t be hunting in the same area as lots of fully grown males.
The cubs head off again and eventually come to a Chukysh, a small trail of open water. While trying to hunt for seals, First and Second were waiting by a breathing hole. But when a seal went to take a breath both cubs clamped their paws into the hole at the same time and they ended up stuck. While their paws were stuck in the hole Krag Sharks came and even Killer whales, their paws were potential food for these animals and they couldn’t get away.
A young seal, seeing the cubs and their predicament offers them a deal. When the water flow changed the seal crashed into Second and was forced to hold on if he didn’t want to fall into the water with the other predators. Seals are a main food source for polar bears, so the seal makes a deal with them that if the predators swim away he will free them and lead them to a better food source if they promise not to eat him and the cubs agree.
As the Seal leads First and Second towards food they become friends. The seal, named Jameson insists that they need names and since their parents aren’t there to give them names they should name themselves. They finally decide to name themselves Stellan, who was First and Jytte, who was Second. After the two stars next to their Mother’s star in the Great Bear Constellation, since bears are commonly named after stars.
Around this point in the story the perceptive switches to show Svenna at the Ice Caps, where she’s forced to worship the clock and is punished for asking questions. As readers we learn that the cubs that are taken, called Tick Tocks, are used in the clock and a bit more about the Timekeepers. Svenna has been assigned to the Numera where she has to do calculations with information from the clock that supposedly will help prepare for the next Great Melting.
Meanwhile Jameson gives the cubs the directions to the Beluga and goes on his way. After eating the food and setting off again Stellan and Jytte find themselves lost in a forest. Unable to see the stars they don’t really know how to navigate and they eventually run into a mysterious old bear named Uluk Uluk. He sees their amazing abilities, Jytte being an ice gazer or a bear who’s able to easily tell the difference between different types of snow and ice while Stellan is a Riddler, who’s able to sense creatures’ presence and hear bits of their thoughts.
Seeing their strengths, abilities and potential Uluk Uluk thinks they could be capable of finally destroying the Ice Clock for good and tricks them. He purposely gives them the wrong directions and leads them directly to the Ice Caps and Roguers. Stellan doesn’t really trust Uluk Uluk, his ability to perceive his thoughts being the main reason, he didn’t want to go exactly the way he told them to. But Jytte trusted him wholeheartedly as the directions were supposed to lead to their Dad, and Jytte has always really wanted to find.
[Spoiler warning, skip to the last three paragraphs to avoid them.]
During their travels they stumbled upon Third, tiny, starving and babbling about not wanting to be a Tick Tock, although the cubs didn’t know what that was. They fed and took care of him, while reuniting with Third they find out he also has an unique ability, he has a sort of second sense. He has dreams that show the future or things that are actually happening or real places, he says he has seen into his Mom’s dreams and overheard her saying he was going to become a Tick Tock. From his dreams Third was able to tell this was a bad thing and that he was going to be taken away and brought to the Ice Caps, so he left the den and got as far away as possible. He was also able to find Jytte and Stellan because of his dreams.
Svenna is sent into solitary confinement at the Ice Caps because she questioned the power of the clock. In her cell she’s made to do some more calculations, and suddenly Svenna felt very tired and fell asleep. When she woke up she saw a small crying cub in the corner of her cell, when she talked to it was dead. Svenna realised they used to be a Tick Tock.
In the next chapter Svenna talks more with the young cub called Jules and a Gillygaskins, a Tick Tock killed on the wheel. The Escapement Wheel is a wheel that Tick Tocks have to walk on and if they misstep they fall and get terribly injured. These cubs are caught in between life and the bear heaven Ursulana. Svenna sees and pities these cubs and promises she’ll do everything she can to help them.
Eventually the fighting between Jytte and Stellan escalates into them separating but while they’re apart a snow storm starts. In the storm they got completely separated and they couldn’t find each other. On her own, Jytte tries to continue to make her way to where Uluk Uluk told them to go. Stellan and Third are desperate and determined to find Jytte and keep going that way too, they both don’t want to go there and have a bad feeling about it but they know Jytte will keep heading in that direction.
When they finally reached their destination it was the Ice Caps and Roguers came after them just as the cubs saw each other again. In a dramatic and intense chase the cubs get away and escape into a forest. While lost in this forest they run into a snow leopard, named Skagen. Skagen is very old, knowledgeable and knows all about the Ice Caps and Tick Tocks and what they’re doing. He offers the cubs shelter in his cave to hide from the Rogures, unlike Uluk Uluk he is truthful and wants to help the cubs, he explains everything to them and teaches them lots about the Time Keepers and their history. He explains that their Mother was probably taken to the Ice Caps and to save her they must also save all the bears by breaking the clock.
Skagen even reveals that he and their Father were both part of a rebellion against the Time Keepers. Skagen continues to teach the cubs and guide them, they must go to the Den of the Forever Frost (a sacred place in bear culture) where they should find their Dad and convince him to rejoin the rebellion.
But when Skagen goes out to stock up on some supplies he’s ambushed by a group of Roguers who know he’s helping the cubs. In a terrible and unfair fight Skagen dies, they follow Skagen’s tracks and then the Rogures set coals from the nearby Volcanoes into the mouth of the cave and try to smoke the cubs out. The cubs were struggling, but they knew the Rogures would be waiting for them at the front entrance. All hope seemed lost until Third seemed to possess Skagen’s voice and lead them through the cave and out a hidden passage.
Around the time the cubs got out of the cave the Rogures thought enough time had passed and they went in the cave looking for the presumably dead cubs, when the Rogures went inside the cubs trapped them in the cave and started a fire. Effectively blocking the Rogures in as they rush around the forest until they find Skagen and excitedly run up to him, only to discover he is dead. With Skagen’s death and the many wrongdoings of the Roguers and Time Keepers as motivation the cubs set off on the next part of their journey.
Personally overall I liked this story, I just had one major problem with it, it is pretty repetitive. Throughout the book Jytte and Stellan encounter so many animals and creatures and get into some many fights with random other animals and it just gets repetitive. There are so many random characters that are just there to give the main characters information and move the plot along but besides that serve no other purpose and, unless they come up in other books in the series, don’t make reappearances.
Some of these characters are definitely relevant and important to the plot but because there’s so many that don’t seem important, it just becomes a cycle of introducing a new character only for them to leave very quickly after, some examples are the fox, Moon Eyes and Jameson. And there’s also lots of seemingly random fights, there were multiple fights or dramatic scenes I didn’t include here simply because they just aren’t important to the plot within this book.
But besides the fact that random things keep happening throughout the book and the main storyline was sometimes lost, it was still okay. I thought there was very good character development, mainly for Jytte and Stellan and their relationship and understanding of each other. I think this story also has a good message about being able to set aside differences and work and be friends with people even if they’re very different from you. This was a good story and it would be for younger readers who are interested in animals or mythology.