Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review : The Terror - Dan Simmons 10*



It is 1847 and two ships of the Royal Navy have been frozen into the pack ice on the North coast of Canada for two entire years, they have been searching for the fabled North Passage and the possibility of open Arctic water. Captain Crozier of H.M.S. Terror knows his men are in a tight spot, the endless awful cold brings frostbite and misery, the canned supplies purchased by the navy are not up to standard, thousands of cans are split and ruined and the crews of both ships are on short rations, their supplies of lemon juice are losing their potency.

All these things weigh on Crozier's mind, but at the forefront of his worries is the thing out there on the ice, the thing that comes in the night and snatches men from the decks, the thing that leaves trails of blood and screams and sometimes returns men's heads, and other body parts, for their mates to find. The thing has killed more officers than men, it seems to display a dreadful sort of intelligence, it kills without warning and in turn seems to be unkillable.

Simmon's novel is an absolute tour de force, this is the best book I have read in ages, it gripped me from the first frozen blast and dragged me headlong and breathless through the continuous fear and misery endured by the ship's crews.

The Terror is a work of historical fiction based upn the ill fated Franklin Expedition of 1845, Simmons has researched the expedition in great detail and his cast of characters are the actual men of that doomed exploration. I know some readers do not like this blurring of fact and fiction, but I knew little about the Franklin Expedition before reading The Terror and so it didn't bother me.

Simmons weaves a quite masterful tale, his knowledge of the grim and deteriorating conditions on board the ships is both fantastically detailed and shockingly realistic, the supernatural terror of the ice beast and Inuit mythology is gripping and exhilarating. As time wars on in the endless cold, men fall to disease, food poisoning, scurvy and the beast, with rations dwindling gone the thoughts of both mutiny and cannibalism have arisen in men's minds, but the direction the book takes in its closing chapters is wholly unexpected and fantastic.

Dan Simmons has written quite a few great novels in his career, and previously I would have said the Hyperion-Endymion series was the high point of good body of work, but Simmons has surpassed himself with The Terror, it stands head, shoulders and blood stained claws above his other works, brutal, violent and utterly compelling. It will take you in its frozen grasp and drag you with unstoppable purpose through to the incredible conclusion.

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