Every now and then you come across a novel that sweeps you up, and holds you captive. A book that continues to speak to you even after you’ve put it down for the night. I knew, about fifty pages into it, that The Terror by Dan Simmons was going to be one of those novels.
Here’s the blurb from the back cover:
“The men on board the HMS Terror – part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage – are entering a second summer in the Arctic circle without a thaw, stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. Endlessly cold, they struggle to survive with poisonous rations, a dwindling coal supply, and ships buckling in the grip of crushing ice. But their real enemy is even more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror clawing to get in.”
The world that Simmons paints is a bleak one. Two ships, the Erebus and Terror are frozen in place. With temps dipping well below the -50 mark, the crew battles frostbite and the need to ration their coal supply. This means frigid temps on-board as well as on-deck. Food is becoming scarce and to make matters worse, there is a strange creature out there, watching their every move.
The story centers around several key characters, one of which is Frances Crozier, a member of the Royal Navy and Captain of the Terror. Leading with a firm hand, he continues to motivate his men when needed, yet is quite capable of judging the situation and devising a plan of action. He has gained the respect of many of his men and they look to him for a way out of this dire situation.
As the story unfolds, several of the secondary characters are put into positions that force them to either rise to the occasion, or buckle under the pressure. Each chapter is told from that character’s point of view, and over the course of 750+ pages, you begin to see what each man is truly made of. In addition to the men, there is a young Esquimaux woman named Lady Silence. Rescued by the crew, she lives amongst the men and is unable to speak as she is missing her tongue. She is often a mystery and a curse to the men on-board the Terror but they do not turn her out.
To me, what makes a novel great is the balance between a strong plot, vivid characters and a good amount of conflict. This novel has it all. What I especially like about this novel is that the setting is also a character of sorts. The Arctic, the cracking ice, the fissures from melting ice and how it affects their day-to-day existence. These characters are constantly challenged and tested in a way that makes for a very satisfying read. It’s an historical adventure mixed with Gothic horror, The Washington Posts says it’s “Patrick O’Brian meets Edgar Allen Poe.”
Before this novel, I had never heard of Dan Simmons. After checking out his website, I see that he has written numerous novels and won several literary awards. His current book, Drood was just sent to me by the lovely Miriam over at Hachette and I cannot wait to dig into it!