9 Great Books Set in Very Cold Places

I love winter. I love it with my whole being—the cold, the snow, the early dark, the bare trees, the ice. It’s my season. And, to be even more honest: I dislike summer. A lot. Yes, there are things I enjoy about the warmer months. But unconditional love? Nope. It’s hot and sticky where I live, I can’t go outside without shedding buckets of sweat, and by the time August rolls around, I am so, so over it. It is snowing while I write this, and while most of my friends and colleagues are muttering about it, I am downright gleeful.

I am in my element right now. But during the hottest months of the summer, I often turn to books to get a taste of my beloved cold. These nine books are some of my favorite wintery reads. They are set in Greenland and Iceland and Antarctica, in the bleak cold of a tide-locked planet, in snowstorms and chilly forests and tiny northern towns. They are full of parkas and wool mittens and fur-lined boots. Whether you’re in the mood for contemporary fiction, historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, or memoir, my fellow winter lovers, these books are for you.

cover of Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen

Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen

This unique coming-of-age novel is set in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. The story takes place over one eventful weekend, as the lives of a group of queer twentysomethings intertwine. Though not set in the depths of winter, Greenland’s cold and remote climate is certainly present in the book. Korneliussen uses text messages, letters, emails, and lists to tell a compelling story about identity, family, love, and self-discovery.

Moon of the Crusted Snow book cover

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

This one of those books where the setting is so vivid and alive that it feels like a central character. It’s set in a small, remote Anishinaabe community in northern Canada. The story begins when suddenly all contact to the outside world is cut off: phones go dead, power goes out, the internet disappears. Not knowing what is happening, the people in the community struggle to make sense of their new reality as the coming winter looms closer and closer. This is a thoughtful, deliciously slow-moving, and often chilling post-apocalyptic novel about what holds a community together and what can tear it apart.

Rising From Ash by Jax Meyer

I had never read a romance set in Antarctica until I picked up this book, and now it’s a sub-genre of romance I’m a little bit obsessed with (not that I’ve found any others yet, but I’m looking). Phoenix Murray has had enough of her terrible boss and the impossible expectations and pressure her family puts on her. So, on a whim, she decides to take a job as a cook at the South Pole. Ash Bennett is an astrophysicist doing a year of PhD research at the South Pole science station. When they meet, their personalities clash, but as the months go by, they find themselves more and more drawn to each other. This slow-burn romance features plenty of snowy Antarctic scenes (and cozy inside ones).

Washington Black cover

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Alright, so this book begins in Barbados, and parts of it take place in Morocco, so it’s not exclusively set in cold places. But a good chunk of it takes place in the Arctic, and also in Nova Scotia. Cold and snow and dark and winter permeate the novel in some important ways. The story follows Washington Black, who begins his life as an enslaved boy on a sugar plantation. Then he’s chosen to become the servant of an eccentric explorer and naturalist, and his life takes a sudden turn. His journeys take him across several continents, as, in the midst of adventures and danger, he creates a life of meaning and purpose for himself.

The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett

I couldn’t make a list of books set in cold place without including a book about Arctic exploration. If you’re hankering to be transported to the Arctic, then this is the book for you: it’s filled with gorgeous and fascinating details about the Arctic climate, from the ice formations and the sea currents to the flora and fauna of the region. Set in the mid 19th century, at the height of Europe and America’s interest in the North Pole, it follows the fateful journey of one ship, the Narwhal, as told by the ship’s reclusive and determined naturalist Erasmus.

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

There are plenty of cold places on earth, but there’s also a whole universe out there, and sci-fi and fantasy writers have been imagining frigid planets for years. This unique sci-fi story is set on a tide-locked planet; one side is blazing hot, the other a dark and frozen wilderness. The story follows Sophie, a young woman exiled into the darkness after a failed attempt at revolution, and Mouth, the only survivor of a group of mysteries nomads. Their paths intersect as they both navigate the challenges of life on a strange, and often brutal, planet.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie

This is the only nonfiction title on this list, but it’s so unique and so quintessentially cold that I had to include it. Tété-Michel Kpomassie was born in Togo, and as a boy he stumbled across a book about Greenland in a bookstore. Fascinated, he made it his life’s mission to go there. This is his memoir of that extraordinary journey: the decade it took him to get to Greenland, the time he spent there, and the many Greenlanders he visited with. This book is overflowing with ice, snow, and long journeys across the frozen tundra.

Independent People by Halldór Laxness

Iceland is not as cold as Greenland, but it certainly gets very cold and dark in winter. I debated between several books set in Iceland to include, and in the end went with this one because it’s got such an epic scope, and it’s so transporting. It doesn’t all take place during the winter, but the winter scenes are dramatic and vivid. Laxness really gives you a sense of how deeply the weather and the climate are woven into Icelandic life. The story follows Bjartur of Summerhouses, a fiercely independent sheep farmer reluctant to change his ways, even as the world is changing all around him.

the bear and the nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

You know a book is going to have a wintery feel if it’s the first in a trilogy called Winternight. Set in a small Russian village on the edge of a forest, this fantasy follows Vasilisa, a young girl who grows up transfixed by fairytales, including the one about Frost, a winter demon who claims unprotected souls in the night. Her family has always honored the spirits that live in the house and forest and protect them from such evils. But after her mother dies, her father brings a new wife home from Moscow, and she doesn’t believe in the old traditions. It’s suddenly up to Vasilisa to save her family from a mysterious evil, one straight out of the folktales and fairytales she loves so much.

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