The Terror is a novel by American author Dan Simmons and is set in and around the famous search for the North West passage by Sir John Franklin in 1846-1849. The real Franklin mission became legendary because the full facts of the mission are still unknown but the Royal Navy funded mission to find a path over the top of Canada to the Pacific ocean became a story of mystery and loss. Franklin sailed in 1846 and nothing was ever heard of again until his wife forced the Navy to send out a ship to search for her husband in 1850 but they failed to find Franklin or his ships.
Franklin sailed with two ships, the flag ship Erebus and the Terror, both were reinforced to cope with the ice and harsh conditions of the Arctic circle, after wintering at Baffin Island they set sail to find the North West passage but in reality they sailed into myth and legend.
So that's the back story, Dan Simmons takes this legendary mission and wraps a wonderful story about the travails aboard Erebus' sister ship The Terror. The tale is told through three shipmen's eyes, there is the voice of John Franklin, the tale of the Terrors captain Crozier and the ship's Doctor Mizer. Through their eyes, the tale is told not in normal terms of just deprivation, ice, freezing conditions, cramped conditions but this being Dan Simmons there is far more going on under the radar.
The ship picks up a local Inuit called Silence who has had her tongue removed in a mysterious accident. Silence seems to be able to commune with the large white bears and slowly but surely the able seamen of the ships are picked off one by one by something mysterious in the ice.
The use of the strange enigmatic force rather than a simple tale of men stuck in a boat which is stuck in the ice take it into the supernatural. The strange creature which is taking the men appears to be intelligent and has a consciousness which wants to punish the men for being in the beasts lands.
Dan Simmons is fast becoming my favourite author, I loved his Black Hills novel, his old science fiction classics Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion but he seems to be able to put his hand to any genre of works so here we have a historical account of the ill-fated Franklin mission.
He brings alive the stories about the great adventures of the Royal Navy and the way Naval ships were run at the time. The greatest praise you can give any author is that the reader feels as though he's actually sat on board the Terror as they are stuck in ice and beset by some strange beast. The skill of an author to bring the panic and fear of men in abnormal conditions is a skill few possess but Dan Simmons manages with such skill that he as I've said is fast becoming my most eagerly looked forward to author and a new book is to be celebrated.
It is 1847; Captain Francis Crozier, master of the vessel known as The Terror, is part of an expedition lead by Sir John Franklin that left in 1845 to discover the North-West Passage through the Arctic Circle and into Canada. But both ships that make up the expedition have become trapped in the ice several miles apart, The Terror and the Erebus both, and food is slowly becoming in short supply. As is coal to heat the ships and provide hot water. This is their second winter stuck in the middle of god-for-saken nowhere and now something has begun to hunt them; emerging from out the snow and ice blizzards to take them out one man at a time leaving bodies in it's wake, almost as a mockery at their presence. It does not look like there is any hope of rescue or that the ice is going to thaw anytime soon and before long, the Ships will be unrepairable....a time is coming when hard decisions indeed are going to need to be made!
So begins Dan Simmons' latest chiller, The Terror based on the true life lost expedition by Sir John Franklin of which little trace was ever found. Based as much on fact as is humanely possible, the book is a detailed account of just what such an expedition must have entailed and the majority of the characters are real crew members who were lost never to return. Of course, the creation of a monster hunting them across the ice is entirely fictional, but it only adds to the heightened sense of imagined horror and builds the level of suspense, that is carried throughout the whole of the novel, ever higher.
Having only ever really read Carrion Comfort by this author (see my review) but being still impresed by it's narrative long after finishing the last page, I saw this, read the back cover blurb and decided I really fancied tackling this latest offering. The book is as true to life as you can probably get about this era of exploration and the Monster that hunts them in actual fact plays a minimum role in the ongoing plot; it being as much about the men's survival against insummountable odds as it is about anything preternatural! People who might ordinarily avoid horror novels should still do well by picking this up and giving it a go as it is a book that works on many levels and is just as tense as any factual account of Polar exploration with plenty of details that show Simmons has really done his research and paid attention to detail!
The initial chapters are a little hard to follow at first and bear close attention, starting as they do in 1847 then reverting to different crew members points of view in flashback to reveal the expedition's initial outset. Once you get used to the book flipping back and forth through time though, the pace really begins picking up at a relentless speed and you find yourself being drawn in and becoming involved in the characters' lives whether you wanted to or not! There is the occasional moment of gore when the Monster on the ice attacks but, for the most part, this remains an accurate account of how these people's lives really must have been in; stuck in the ice with dwindling supplies and little hope of rescue....
This is without question, one of the best chillers I have read yet this year, if not the best. At the end, the book does get a bit bleak and there are several chapters devoted to Eskimaux mysticism and a kind of cursory explanation for what the Thing on the ice actually is but this is the only weak point and, in fact, the book ends in the only way it can; with a climax as ambiguous as it is believable.
There is no question that I would recommend this to anyone and think it is easily Dan Simmon's crowning achievment. Certainly I intend to read more of his back catalogue but I have it on good authority that none of them are as gripping as this! If you only read one Dan Simmons novel in your life-time, it deserves to be this!! I cannot possibly hope to do it justice in this review but it really is a belter of a book!