Book Review: Dan Simmons' _The Terror:_ a mystery-adventure story with a dash of horror"
March 26, 2018 11:28pm CST
Ever since the 1500's, England has strived to find a way to the Pacific Ocean that didn't involve having to travel through Spanish or Portuguese dominions -- and considering that they were at war with either of these countries most of the time, it was a wise move on their part. What they wanted was a way north, through the Arctic Ocean and the islands of Canada, and into the Pacific. Several expeditions had tried, and had turned back, defeated by the brutal winters, and their own lack of technology to build ships strong enough to break through the ice. Now another expedition is seeking to ford a way through the North-West Passage. The two ships, Erebus and Terror under the leadership of Sir John Franklin have been fully stocked and crewed, many of the men having been veterans of a similar expedition to Antarctica. Sir John, dining with his officers on board the Erebus with such grandeur as silver, china and crystal for their table, more than a thousand books in the ship's library, and every convenience, is quite confident that he'll be in the Bering Sea within two years and a hero's welcome back in England to boot. He's so determined that he will succeed, that when things start to go wrong -- such as an early advent of the pack ice -- he dismisses it as nothing. The captain of the Terror isn't so sanguine about it. Francis Crozier, an Irish nobody, is already making plans for himself. At first, it merely involves blowing his brains out when his stash of whiskey finally gives out, for he is a melancholy sort, with his heart badly broken, and his spirit being crushed by the never-ending night and cold of the arctic. But there is something worse than the cold and ice out there, something horrible is stalking the crew of the Franklin Expedition, rending men limb and devouring them in the everlasting night. Some of the crew think that it's the Devil himself, others that it is Lady Silence, a mysterious -- and mute -- Esquimaux woman that the ships have encountered, and some just a giant polar bear. Crozier knows better, he knows that there is little chance of survival for any of them... Told mostly through the eyes of Captain Crozier, I found this to be a thrilling novel to read, and full of surprises. I had heard about the Franklin Expedition before, and knew what the outcome was going to be. Despite that, I found myself truly fascinated by the story, and wondering what each character's fate was going to be in this one. Some of the people we just get a glimpse of, others are delved into quite a bit, and we get to see their fears, hopes, what drove them to join the expedition, and sometimes, unhappily, their final moments. In between the action sequences, there are bits about the ships themselves, and how they were stocked and crewed, British naval traditions, some history of the Discovery Service -- expeditions of both military and civilian men sent out to explore the world -- and quite a few details about life in the 1840's. While the narrative did get a bit bogged down in places by all of the information, it also provided a moment to catch my breath as I waited for the next disaster to hit. <br> Simmons, while he is very wordy, can craft quite a tale here, and his research into the Franklin Expedition, sailing life, Inuit traditions, and a real sense of adventure all combine to give this story a sense of being there. Even the supernatural elements that Simmons used, such as Crozier's moments of second sight, and the Inuit legends, didn't feel off either, and were skillfully woven into the story to excellent effect. So despite the story dragging in spots when the author is explaining this or that bit of survival technique or sailing jargon, it's still interesting. This isn't going to be a book for everyone -- it's rather thick at almost seven hundred and fifty pages, with a huge cast of characters, and rather dense going at times. Also, the violence is very horrific, both out on the ice, and in the language used by the sailors. There are also moments of raw sexuality, both homosexual and straight, as well as lurid hints of cannibalism, so readers who are sensitive to those sorts of things should take caution. Maps of the route that the Terror and Erebus undertook are provided, as well as an afterword from the author where he lists some of the sources that he used for his book. All in all, this was well worth the time and trouble that it took me to read, and it's earned a place on my keeper shelves. While the true fate of the Franklin Expedition will probably never be known -- there aren't any surviving accounts left of the men save a cryptic note in a cache -- this novel does take the reader on a fascinating 'what-if?' story. Rounded up to five stars from about four and a half. Highly recommended. Addition: (2018) Tonight I watched a two hour premiere of a television series based on this book on AMC. I hope to have a review up on this when the series is finished. This review was previously published on another website. And yes, all of it is mine, and copyrighted in 2018 by Rebecca Huston. The Terror Dan Simmons 2007; Little, Brown and Company ISBN 978-0-316-01744-2
5 people like this
• Manila, Philippines
Interesting. I am not into horror-mystery genre but maybe can take a detour. I am actually not aware of the Franklin Expedition but I agree it is something to ponder about as to what might have happened. Looks like a great story with interesting plot. I would like to divulge myself with this book and add it in my mini library. Thank you, Rebecca.
• United States
I will have to add this to my reading list, it sounds right up my alley. I love those huge, thick books! It means that I will be immersed in another world and intimately know all the characters, no shortcuts. I'm always sorry when I finish them but the journey is always a great one. I thought I had read this author before but apparently not, from seeing his books on Amazon. That's great, it means I've found a new author with books that look fascinating! Thank you for your review!!