The year is 1847, and the crews of The Erebus and The Terror have been frozen in ice for two years. They are running low on food, suffering from frost bite, hypothermia, and disease, with the threat of mutiny always present. One day, a monstrous creature appears on the ice and begins picking the sailors off one by one.
In The Terror, Dan Simmons takes the known facts of the disastrous Franklin Expedition, and fills in the blanks. It’s not a spoiler to say a lot of people die, considering that none of the subsequent rescue missions, and later scientific expeditions, ever found any evidence of any of the men surviving. What Simmons chooses to fill the blanks with is a lot of reasonable speculation, and an ice monster whose nature is left a mystery until the last 3 chapters.
I really liked The Terror when the author is detailing the miserable conditions that the characters arecoping with. He writes in a way that you can very clearly imagine the ice, the long dark winters and short bright summers, the dank and dark ships that the men spend most of their time in. His descriptions of the ravages of scurvy had me picking up oranges the next time I went to the store.
He uses multiple POVs to tell his story, from the expedition commander Sir John Franklin, to the ship’s surgeon Dr. Goodsir, to the lowly seamen Pelgar and Blanky, with The Terror’s captain, Francis Crozier, as the protagonist. Each of his characters, even the ones that don’t get to tell their own stories are interesting, and complex.
The story is set at a very good pace, keeping things moving along for the most part except in a few
places where everything grinds to a halt so characters can lay down a bunch of background, talk
about this new radical idea of evolution, and describe-in painstaking detail-all the boats that the
ships brought with them. This information is necessary to an extent, but they are such obvious info
dumps that I ended up skipping several pages out of frustration.
The only other thing that stuck out to me is the last 3-4 chapters. They feel like they belong on a
different book. There is some foreshadowing of the conclusion, but it happens in one chapter and then doesn’t make any appearance for the rest of the story, so the fate of Francis Crozier seems to come out of left field.
The one thing I’m left with after reading The Terror is that Dan Simmons could have written a historical fiction novel without any supernatural elements at all and it would still be an engrossing story. Between the fully realized characters, the bad luck that never seems to leave them, the harsh environment they're trapped in, food poisoning, lead poisoning, starvation, and scurvy, an ice monster almost seems like overkill.
I have never read any of Dan Simmons' other books, so I can't compare it to any of his other work. But if The Terror is indicative of any of his other stuff, I may have to look up some of his other books.
Next month, I'm going to review Fireseed One by Catherine Stine. I received a copy of this book from Candilynn Fite as a prize for Fireworks, my entry in her Follow My Lead blogfest. It's been on my Kindle for months, so I might as well read it.
If anyone bothers to read this and comment, let me know what you think of my review. It's the first book review I've done, so any feedback is appreciated.