Author: Dan Simmons
First Published: January 8, 2007
No. of Pages: 992 pages
Synopsis (from B&N): The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of finding the Northwest Passage. When the expedition’s leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the Terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear there is no escape. A haunting, gripping story based on actual historical events, The Terror will chill you to your core.
Comments and Critique: “Actual historical events” may be a bit of a stretch. Without giving away any of the plot or suspense, I had to do a little investigating to see where truth might deviate from fiction. Sir John Franklin did lead an expedition in 1846 to attempt to discover the Northwest Passage. And yes, the five years of canned goods were improperly sealed. The rest – well, the rest is best left for you to discover for yourself.
In spite of the liberties taken with history, I could hardly put down this book to socialize with my in-laws or write my research paper. (I read it while on vacation in Texas.) I found myself equally terrified and mesmerized by what was unfolding on the pages. Simmons describes the bitter cold and death by scurvy or starvation with horrible accuracy. Even though I was reading this in temperatures as high as the upper 70s, I found myself searching for my slippers or socks and long-sleeve shirts in an effort to stay warm. And never have I been more aware of the need for fresh fruits.
Another minor issue I found with the book was the fact that the first half of the book was written out of chronological order. I kept having to flip back to previous chapters in an attempt to figure out where the current story fit into what I had already read. By the middle of the book, this issue disappeared, so I suspect it was a deliberate plot device put in place to build suspense and then let that suspense carry through the rest of the novel. As I mentioned, it was only partially annoying.
I did have fun trying to decipher the map that was positioned in the front of the novel. It was filled with cryptic sites that only made sense as I read further. It also helped me figure out what was happening during the jumps between time. Surprisingly, once I figured out what the map was showing, I still was not able to predict the ending.
In spite of its apparent flaws, I really liked this book. I’m not a fan of horror stories, so this kept my adrenaline flowing as well as keeping me up quite late during nights. I still don’t know if I found the Terror on the ice more horrific or the physical hardships endured by the expedition. I’m sure that others who like this genre would find The Terror rather bland, but I did find it (and please forgive the pun) terrifying.