The Terror by Dan Simmons

No Series

The men on board Her Britannic Majesty's Ships Terror and Erebus had every expectation of triumph. They were part of Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition - as scientifically advanced an enterprise as had ever set forth - and theirs were the first steam-driven vessels to go in search of the fabled North-West Passage.

But the ships have now been trapped in the Arctic ice for nearly two years. Coal and provisions are running low. Yet the real threat isn't the constantly shifting landscape of white or the flesh-numbing temperatures, dwindling supplies or the vessels being slowly crushed by the unyielding grip of the frozen ocean.

No, the real threat is far more terrifying. There is something out there that haunts the frigid darkness, which stalks the ships, snatching one man at a time - mutilating, devouring. A nameless thing, at once nowhere and everywhere, this terror has become the expedition's nemesis.

When Franklin meets a terrible death, it falls to Captain Francis Crozier of HMS Terror to take command and lead the remaining crew on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. With them travels an Eskimo woman who cannot speak. She may be the key to survival - or the harbinger of their deaths. And as scurvy, starvation and madness take their toll, as the Terror on the ice become evermore bold, Crozier and his men begin to fear there is no escape...

“Why does our species always have to take our full measure of God-given misery and terror and mortality and then make it worse?”

The Terror. What to say about it?

It's long. It's well-researched. It's inventive. It's creepy. It's brutal. It makes you feel the cold.

If it weren't for the end, I may have gone with 4. It's not easy to rate. So much of it is worth 5 star, a few pushes it back, I'll be uncertain again and settle with 4.5

Embarrassingly, I had no idea this was based on a true story until I read it. Reminds me of a co-worker, who used to be a history teacher, telling me the story of a young girl in line pissed at him for spoiling the "ending" of Titanic when they were in line waiting for the movie.

I do think, as I often do with long books, that some trimming would have helped it. That said, the slow pacing is well suited to the historical horror tale where the ambience of the freezing winter is as important to the story as the story itself. You can't rush through the ice.

For a lengthy tome with many, many characters, Simmons did the right thing by limiting the point of view. Having it first point of view would have made no sense at all and would have been lesser quality, but focusing in the minds of a few important characters - and a few who were smaller but played important roles after all - was the right thing. None of the characters were perfect, but they were all intriguing in their way.

There are scenes that pissed me off, of course. The Eskimo scene, how utterly depressing this book was, some of the circumstances that befall favorites. Scurvy = *shivers*. Still, this isn't supposed to be an uplifting book after all. The author throws us a bone with the last two hundred pages at least.

This long book is available in different page counts, some bizarrely different, in all forms - I was delighted to finally open my Hardcover of this one, but also have the kindle version AND the brilliant audiobook I supplemented it with. I finally cleaned some listening to it, yay for my house. It was getting scary in here. Tom Sellwood does an excellent job. I read reviews that his whispering annoyed people, but I found hardly any whispering. Really, it's a well-done audio. Have patience for the long trip since this is a long journey that needs a lot of pages, but really the narrator was an exceptional choice. Bravo.

The Esquimaux lady was one of my favorites, but Captain Crozier wins in the male department, despite me thinking he was wrong with a particular whipping scene.

Dr. Harry D. S. Goodsir was a much-needed softer touch who tales a lot of the story through his journal writing, starting with excited and jubilant hope like a small boy about to go on a big trip. He keeps up the heart of his character by wanting to help the men as best as he could, although I could have slapped him with an amputation scene - let some die in peace, already!

“I wish I could help him. I wish I could help the dozens of other Sufferers - all the victims of wounds, maulings, burns, diseases, incipient malnutrition, and melancholic despair - aboard this entrapped ship and her sister ship. I wish I could help myself, for already I am showing the early signs of Nostalgia and Debility. But there is little that I - or any surgeon in the Year of Our Lord 1848 - can do. God help us all.”

Franklin...there's surprises - he's not a favorite but his chapters are well done and interesting in getting into the head of the character of the man's mind and giving all this disaster a plausible starting point. It was pretty hard not to love the Ice Master.

Then there's the monster. Sometimes I don't think we even needed a monster. It comes together at at the end to fit legend and lore and more layers than a general adventure story, though. Just keep reading.

In 2014 we found the remains of the Erebus, and 2016 we have finally found the remains of the Terror. To name a ship that in the first place almost seems to be an omen of impending doom and disaster.

The book works well with ambience and characters that I've covered, but the horrors of scurvy are also well done, as is the freezing with breaking teeth (yikes) and the effects of starvation. Men turning on each other is inevitable. The author didn't have this happen as brutally as it could have -- sure, we get some true horrible villains, but most of the honor and bonding of the men stayed in force besides one particular group.

The Terror is too large to be defined by genre. There's horror, but there's a survival story, there's drama, there's intensity of legend and fantasy. A creative play on a real-life disaster, Simmons beautiful writing brings the haunting story to new depths with an almost mystical landing.

Book Quotes

“Trust me. I’ve seen it in London and I’ve seen it with shipwreck. Death by scurvy is worse. It would be better if the Thing took us all tonight."

Cover Gallery


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