The Terror 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 John Franklin and Captain Crozier.
As the expedition's situation deteriorates, Simmons's research and writing talents combine to deliver a totally convincing and atmospheric description of the period and setting, with a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. The sailors fight to survive in a world of endless cold with nights that last for half a year. The effects of cold and malnutrition are described in often grisly detail, as is the gradual decline of the crew into madness, mutiny and cannibalism, while the presence of the monstrous creature from the ice, possessed of a dark and vicious intelligence, weaves in and out of the story, building the tension.
The Terror is not perfect - the changes of narrator and tense, from third-person to first-person, can be jarring; the creature does increase tension, but its predations are often left vague, and its appearance in the story is inconsistent. Even so, The Terror is a strong and complex tale, rich in atmosphere, with a surprising and yet satisfying denouement.
Did you know?
The Franklin expedition consisted of two ships: H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S Terror. In the Greek pantheon, Erebus was the son of Chaos. Charon, the ferry-man, who takes the dead across the River Styx, is said to be the son of Erebus and Nyx (Night). Mount Erebus (part of the Pacific Ring of Fire that includes over 160 active volcanoes) is the world's southernmost active volcano. It is located on Ross Island in Antarctica, which is also home to three inactive volcanoes, one of which is Mount Terror.
This review was originally published in February 2007, and has been updated for the December 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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