is based on a real expedition
(see sidebar) which set out from England in 1845, never to
return. This powerful historical backdrop - two well-equipped
ships, crewed with seasoned Arctic explorers and led by a
renowned explorer and popular hero - provides an excellent
foundation point for Simmons's talents. From the opening
paragraphs, it becomes clear that he has done his research;
period information is vivid and crisp, and immediately draws you
in, effectively setting up the story's main themes early on:
Survival in the Arctic with risks of cold, starvation and
scurvy; and the supernatural "thing" that preys on the explorers
and appears invulnerable to their weapons.
There is no single narrator, rather the story is told through
the eyes of various crew-members including Sir...
Beyond the Book
The mythical North-West Passage
held the imagination of Britain for most
of the 19th century. At that time,
before the great canals of Panama and
Suez were built, trade with the
lucrative markets in Asia was perilous
and slow, with trade routes either
flowing past the Cape of Good Hope in
Africa, across to India, and thereby to
the Far East; or taking the dangerous
passage South around Cape Horn in South
America, and then across the Pacific.
What Britain sought was a shortcut: The
fabled North-West Passage, a sea-route
North past Canada, through to Alaska and
the lucrative markets of the...