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5.0 out of 5 starsRead in broad daylight!
Reviewed in the United States on January 11, 2018
I read this fictional account of an actual expedition to find the Northwest Passage through the Artic last winter. I soon found I could not read the book at night when alone as I found it too scary. I have not been this scared since seeing original movie The Thing when 10 years old. If the upcoming AMC series is half as good as the book, I expect to be terrorized! Book is a little long.....900+ pages but Mr. Simmons does an excellent job of developing the predicament of the ships and men so you easily buy in to his fictional account of what could have happened to the men. Recommend reading book b4 the series premieres March 2018. Also interesting to note expeditions have located both ships in the Artic within the past year.
5.0 out of 5 starsSO MUCH BETTER than the AMC miniseries!
Reviewed in the United States on June 18, 2018
Like many other reviewers, I bought this book after watching AMC's adaptation for TV. The sound quality of dialogue on the show was terrible and I felt like I was missing key parts of the story, so I bought the book to fill out what I was missing.
I am glad I did!! The show was (as adapted shows or movie versions often are) a pale shadow of the book. I was impressed by the amount of time Dan spent researching this expedition, its members, archeological expeditions to locate the ships and crew, Eskimo culture and language, and how polar expeditionary ships were reinforced and otherwise outfitted. Like Erik Larson's "Devil In The White City" and "Dead Wake", this book brought historical events alive and inspired me to seek out more information about the events described. It was a fascinating, well-paced read, and put me in the era through the effective use of dialogue. I looked forward to reading another chapter of this book every night or more on weekends. I love it when a book does that.
The story adds some fictional elements that historical records could never be the source of, but these are added to produce a very compelling story explaining the disappearance of two ships' entire crews (minus the 4 bodies found in graves on Beechey Island) beyond merely explaining that "poisoned food and exposure got them all".
The TV series made some significant changes to many of the events in the book, and I can guess that some changes were necessary for a shorter miniseries, but others seem to have been made for convenience. For example (MINOR spoiler), in the TV version, the Eskimo girl Silna is initially silent after the death of her father, but then is seen helping Dr Goodsir add to knowledge of Eskimo vocabulary by teaching him a few words. Later, she cuts out her own tongue for reasons we don't know. In the book, Silna is silent from the beginning. We learn much later that she is part of a small group of "sixam inua" (Spirit Governors) who communicate with the Tuunbaq telepathically, and who have made a pact to both communicate with and offer food to the Tuunbag. This pact is sealed when the sixam inua offers his or her tongue to the Tuunbaq, who chews them off as a sign of acceptance. I'm not sure why the TV series couldn't have shown Silna out away from the ship somewhere making this offering. My guess is that doing so would have let viewers know that Silna had some kind of control of the spirit/monster/beast.
The TV series had an odd ending that was disquieting and VERY different from the book's ending, which was rather a happy one, considering that this is a book about ~300 people either murdered, dead of disease (scurvy is nasty!), exposure or starvation in the Arctic circle. The TV series should act as an appetizer for the book, and once read, you will feel much more satisfied in having lived a good and complete story.
I don't know what I was expecting but I certainly didn't expect what I got. The Terror takes an historical event, the disappearance of Erebus and Terror, and provides what is mostly a pretty good idea explanation of what may have happened to their crews. But that's not all... a strong supernatural element is added. And it works. Oh boy does it work. If you enjoyed The Perfect Storm but also enjoy a good Stephen King book, you will probably like this one.
2.0 out of 5 starsAn arduous undertaking full of frustration, toil, drudgery, and with little reward
Reviewed in the United States on August 21, 2018
I'm talking about the book, not the Franklin expedition.
I won't go into massive detail here. The premise is intriguing. It's what sucked me in. Then there are a couple hundred pages of dithering where crewmembers slowly die off while the main characters brood about the situation. The tension consists primarily of the supplies running low and (horror trope incoming) people making awful decisions when they should know better. There's also a giant killer phantom bear. About halfway through I felt like I was being trolled, like if Virginia Woolf wrote a horror novel on a dare. Then there's the Poe reference.
From that point I just gritted my teeth and pushed on to the expected, easily anticipated, unsatisfying conclusio because momma didn't raise no quitter.
5.0 out of 5 starsThis work of historical fiction is absolutely fascinating.
Reviewed in the United States on May 10, 2018
I thought this was absolutely fascinating; coupled with the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror both being found; maybe we will find out some of the real truth about what happened to Sir John Franklin's doomed Northwest Passage mission. I think it is a great job of historical fiction; the author obviously did research his topic very well as the existing ship's manifests show. I liked learning about the Netsilik Intuit folklore along with the Tuunbaq; and found it absolutely fascinating and terrifying at the same time. I knew scurvy was bad; but reading Dr. Goodsir's journal and diaries took this to a whole new dimension. The men on these ships were obviously very intelligent and competent at their crafts; but had no idea what awaited them in their attempt to make history. Also, the two ships had been triumphant in the Antarctic; so I think there could have been some hubris amongst the crew as suggested in the story. A fantastic read; I am planning on reading the references in their entirety. But, be warned; this book is terrifying - the HMS Terror as aptly named.
5.0 out of 5 starsTense, claustrophobic and chilling in every sense of the word!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 17, 2018
I bought this book as one of my holiday reads, mainly due to a friend recommending I watch the serialisation on AMC, which I don't have - and I'm glad because the book is always better and this book is brilliant!
Told through first and third person narratives The Terror is the name of the ship charged with finding and navigating the Arctic Northwest passage in the mid nineteenth century. However, those not interested (or actively disinterested) in seafaring tales should take heart that the ship manages virtually no 'seafaring' at all thanks to fact that it is iced-bound and serves only as the setting for the nerve-fraying and horrific series of events that beset the expedition. Stranded with no hope of a thaw, starving, sick, mutinous and tormented by an unseen and deadly predator on the ice, crew members die or are picked off one-by-one until they are forced to ever more drastic and desperate measures to survive.
As well as being fast-paced and tense, The Terror also manages to fascinate with details about these early, ill-prepared and frankly foolhardy explorers and provides shameful insights into the mindset of a group of people who actively look down on the native populations of the arctic, despite their seemingly effortless ability to thrive in such a hostile environment whilst the white men around them perish. Dan Simmons' ability to convey the claustrophobic confines of the ship and the crippling, debilitating and merciless Arctic environment elevates them almost to leading character status and this ensures the reader develops the appropriate empathy needed to fully appreciate the hardship and horror that these ill-fated expeditions were subjected to.
I found The Terror hard to put down and am delighted to now be embarking on Dan Simmons' other work.
5.0 out of 5 starsImpossible to put this book down....
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 29, 2020
This is one of the best fiction books I have ever read. Whilst 900+ pages for a novel may seem daunting, especially when the story concerns Sir John Franklin's 1845 NW passage expedition being stuck in the ice for a number of years, I found myself reading this book in chunks of100 or so pages at a go. It was completed in under a fortnight and the shear hopelessness of the situation makes compelling reading as there are tantalizing suggestions throughout the book that a number of the characters may survive.
The unadorned story would be fascinating in it's own right but Dan Simmons adds another layer to the the account by incorporating a supernatural monster that is preying on the ship's crew. Although this monster is always a menacing presence on the ice, there are plenty of other dangers too which make this book a real page-turner. In addition, the crew is supplemented by the addition of a mute Inuit girl who mysteriously disappears and re-appears and who seems to have some understanding of the threat out on the ice but cannot explain. The beasts random attacks on the expedition are some of the most exciting moments in the book.
I think a core factor in making the story so plausible is that the account is wholly located in the site where the two boats HMs Terror and HMS Erebus are frozen in with earlier elements of the expedition told in flashback. Immediately, the writer plunges us in to the horror of the situation and the fact that this part of the world is so alien and disturbing, the incorporation of the monster does not feel at all incongruous. In fact, the book ultimately concludes with an explanation from the Inuit perspective of what has actually happened.
What I really liked about this book is that, having read non-fiction accounts of the expedition, Simmons has woven in elements we know to be true about this expedition into his fiction and reimagined some of the issues such as the cannibalism into the story whereby they serve to explain particular events or as a conclusion to one of the plot threads. The account of the poorly sealed tins of food is also accurate. Simmons has also cleverly allowed the story to be told through a number of different characters , each with a distinctive voice and therefore you get a different perspective on what is happening. There are sub-plots a -plenty and also some fascinating dynamics amongst the officers and their crew which change as the situation becomes ever more hopeless as the events progress.
I also feel obliged to say that I cannot see how anyone can suggest that this story sags at any point. If anything, it is a book in three parts. Initially the crew of the two ships appear to be coping until an event occurs which prompts a change in fortunes where life becomes increasingly parlous in the middle third. Throughout these pages we get to understand and appreciate the various characters and their efforts to survive in increasingly difficult circumstances. Tellingly, Simmons reveals the flaws in his principle characters and you get to understand the difficult decisions that need to be made, even if you know they may have consequences later on. In the final third of the book the pace picks up as the story moves out on to the ice where the numerous plot strands in the book ultimately play out to often shocking conclusions. I don't think that I have read 300 pages so quickly!
Science Fiction is usually an oeuvre that I tend to avoid. "The Terror" is does combine elements of the supernatural and horror yet, for the most part, this is essentially a historical adventure story . Few genres are quite as disappointing as Science Fiction in my view and they are usually let down by poor endings. By contrast, "The Terror" works really well with some elements of the novel worked through to a satisfying conclusion and others left to remain a mystery until the final pages. There are moments which are really poignant, others where you are rooting for the villain to get his come-uppance and an over-riding desire to see that the survivors reach Back's River inlet. The story does not effectively end until the last few pages but which time the reader would be excused for taking in a few deep breaths to take in a really good yarn told exceptionally well. Thoroughly recommended.
4.0 out of 5 starsA long read, at times grim, but worth it
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 13, 2019
HMS Terror is the name of a real boat that, along with HMS Erebus, set off to map the North West Passage and disappeared along with the entire crew in Victorian times (until finally some evidence of their fate was uncovered in 2014). Michael Palin has just released a non-fiction book about the Erebus (which I've not yet read) but The Terror is Dan Simmon's fictionalised account of the crew's final days, with both boats stuck in the ice above the Artic Circle as the crew slowly run out of heat, food and hope. His version of the story, told from multiple perspectives, is both gripping and depressing. Of course "The Terror" has two meanings and if the plight of the crew wasn't enough, given Simmons writes horror fiction, in this version they are also being hunted down by some huge mythical beast (from the indigenous tribe's folklore), whilst internal tensions turn members of the crew against each other. Clearly, it's not a barrel of laughs and given the length of the book I felt the 100s of pages of grimness became wearing at times. However, Simmons writes compelling, easy-to-read prose and there are some dazzlingly exciting passages (a crew member being chased by the monster around the masts and rigging comes to mind), the characters are believable, there are moments of real poignancy, and the ending ultimately offers some respite. If nothing else it's a hauntingly memorable read, with the facts of the back story meticulously researched by Simmons.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 25, 2018
One of the best books Ihave ever read. I couldn’t put it down. I am interested in the Franklin Expedition and was fascinated when they disinterred the bodies of the sailors on Beech Island in the 80s. The author uses history facts and details to weave a plausible story of the expedition’s fate. I didn’t see the TVSeries but the book is a must read. Don’t be put off by its length; you ont be able to put it down!
5.0 out of 5 starsYou feel you are in amongst the crew suffering every with them
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 4, 2018
Don’t assume this is disposable populist genre fiction. Simmons great strength is his ability to create real people whose behaviour is always consistent with the inhospitable conditions that eventually provide their undoing. The novel works well as an allegory for the decline of British Imperialism due to the hubris, arrogance and corruption of the Admiral fleet and is a tremendous weighty achievement in atmosphere, fact and story telling.