Summary and book reviews of The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Terror

A Novel

by Dan Simmons

The Terror by Dan Simmons X
The Terror by Dan Simmons
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 784 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2007, 672 pages

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Book Summary

The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of triumph; part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, they set out in the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage. Years later, trapped in a landscape of encroaching ice and darkness, endlessly cold, and with diminishing rations, 126 men fight to survive as an unseen predator stalks their ship.

The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of triumph. As part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage, they are as scientifically supported an enterprise as has ever set forth. As they enter a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, though, they are stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. Endlessly cold, with diminishing rations, 126 men fight to survive with poisonous food, a dwindling supply of coal, and ships buckling in the grip of crushing ice. But their real enemy is far more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror constantly clawing to get in.

When the expedition’s leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. With them travels an Inuit woman who cannot speak and who may be the key to survival, or the harbinger of their deaths. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear that there is no escape.

The Terror swells with the heart-stopping suspense and heroic adventure that have won Dan Simmons praise as “a writer who not only makes big promises but keeps them” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). With a haunting and constantly surprising story based on actual historical events, The Terror is a novel that will chill you to your core.

1
CROZIER

Captain Crozier comes up on deck to find his ship under attack by celestial ghosts. Above him — above Terror — shimmering folds of light lunge but then quickly withdraw like the colourful arms of aggressive but ultimately uncertain spectres. Ectoplasmic skeletal fingers extend toward the ship, open, prepare to grasp, and pull back.

The temperature is ?50 degrees Fahrenheit and dropping fast. Because of the fog that came through earlier, during the single hour of weak twilight now passing for their day, the foreshortened masts — the three topmasts, topgallants, upper rigging, and highest spars have been removed and stored to cut down on the danger of falling ice and to reduce the chances of the ship capsizing because of the weight of ice on them — stand now like rudely pruned and topless trees reflecting the aurora that dances from one dimly seen horizon to the other. As Crozier watches, the jagged ice fields around the ship turn blue, then bleed ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Terror is not perfect - the changes of narrator and tense, from third-person to first-person, can be jarring, and takes some time to get used to. The creature does increase tension, but its predations are often left vague, and its appearance in the story is sometimes inconsistent. Even so, The Terror is a strong and complex tale, rich in atmosphere, with a surprising and yet satisfying denouement...continued

Full Review (658 words).

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Media Reviews

The New Yorker
Simmons, an accomplished writer of horror and sci-fi, is predictably adroit in his deployment of terror, but the greatest pleasure of the novel lies in the sharp and sympathetic portrayals of Captain Francis Crozier, who assumes command of the expedition after Franklin’s death, and Dr. Harry Goodsir, the mild yet determined ship’s physician.

The Washington Post - David Masiel
[M]ixing historical adventure with gothic horror -- a sort of Patrick O'Brian meets Edgar Allan Poe against the backdrop of a J.M.W. Turner icescape. Meticulously researched and brilliantly imagined, The Terror won't satisfy historians or even Franklin buffs, but as a literary hybrid, the novel presents a dramatic and mythic argument for how and why Franklin and his men met their demise.

Kirkus Reviews
Tension builds as the men struggle to survive: The thing is a constant menace, and deaths continue to mount as a result of brutal Arctic conditions. The supernatural element helps resolve the plot in a surprising yet highly effective manner. One of Simmons' best.

Publisher's Weekly
Starred Review. Simmons (Olympos) brings the horrific trials and tribulations of arctic exploration vividly to life in this beautifully written historical...this complex tale should find many devoted readers.

Library Journal
[A] direct and compelling narrative.

Booklist - Roland Green
Outstanding.

Reader Reviews

Ryan

The Terror by Dan Simmons
The Terror is a chilling take on Sit John Franklin's failed 1845 search for the Northwest Passage aboard the ships Erebus and Terror. The book focuses on a few characters in particular, and keeps each section (separated by character) short enough so ...   Read More

Kim

Excellent, but with weaknesses
I'm a huge fan of Dan Simmons' novels. I've read everything he's written some books more than once. There were elements of The Terror that I enjoyed very much, and consider to be far and away some of his best work. This is particularly true of the...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Sir John Franklin and The North-West Passage

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 Orient.

Expedition after expedition was sent. People were convinced a passage was there, with wealth and fame awaiting those who found it. Some even ...

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