Dan Simmons' new novel, The Terror, may be the best thing he's ever written: a deeply absorbing story that combines awe-inspiring myth, grinding horror and historically accurate adventure … Simmons' skill goes beyond making readers feel his characters' pain and accept their heroic fortitude. He introduces into this harsh, beautiful milieu a monster born of the elements, yet more cunning than any natural creature … Told from multiple perspectives, The Terror answers many questions arising from the loss of the historical Franklin Expedition, inventing satisfactory explanations of its fate where the real details long ago were lost to history. It examines other questions along the way: the nature of evil and how to confront it; the nature of courage and how to find it.
Skilfully, horribly, Simmons details the months of darkness – the temperatures of -50F and lower; the shrieking groans of the ice; the wind; the hunger – from the multiple perspectives of the men on board the ship, and with such detail that I defy readers not to grab another jumper. He adds in another, more deliberate evil: a stalking, polar bear-like monster which tracks over the icy wastelands around the ships, picking the men off one by one … It's a truly chilling horror novel, made even more terrifying when you remember that much of the horror Simmons describes is based on reality.
It's a story perfectly suited for fiction, if only because we have so little else to go on. Dan Simmons's new novel, The Terror, dives headlong into the frozen waters of the Franklin mystery, mixing 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 … This mix of historical realism, gothic horror and ancient mythology is a difficult walk on fractured ice, and anyone without Simmons's mastery of narrative craft would have undoubtedly fallen through. Despite its Leviathan length, The Terror proves a compelling read.
This book needs all the reducing it can get, but in the interest of fairness I should say that The Terror could also be described as a large, ambitious historical novel about one of the most famous disasters of the 19th century … Of the many possible approaches to making artistic sense of the Franklin fiasco, just about the least promising, I’d say, would be to turn it into an epic-length ripping yarn. That’s the course Simmons sets out on, though, and stays on, for hundreds and hundreds of pages and hundreds of thousands of words, in the apparent conviction that everything impeding him will ultimately, inevitably yield to his craftsmanship and his steely will.
Simmons takes this 19th-century tragedy and crafts an imaginative hybrid tale. It's a historical/horror novel … Because so little is known about how the crew died, Simmons lets his fertile imagination run rampant: hordes of rats, cannibalism, scurvy, poison, starvation, mutiny, murder, madness and magic. Think H.P. Lovecraft's Antarctic fear fest At the Mountains of Madness mixed with Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and a handful of Stephen King's spookiest goose bumps … The novel works most of all because of the complicated, ever-changing interaction between the men. Adversity brings out the best and the worst in human nature. The men reveal themselves as savage, brave, loyal, pusillanimous or barking mad amid the stark, unforgiving white landscape.
What happened to Franklin and his 129 men is a frustrating mystery to historians, but a boon for Dan Simmons, whose new novel imagines what might have befallen the expedition … The Terror can get Melvillean in spots, bogging down in descriptions of Arctic geography and nautical protocol. And Simmons, a veteran of the horror genre, may indulge in one or two vicious beast attacks too many. But ultimately, this novel makes some keen observations about man and nature, civilization and savagery. Over the course of the narrative it becomes clear that the global might of the British Empire meant nothing in the Arctic.
Simmons convincingly renders both period details and the nuts and bolts of polar exploration as his narrative moves back and forth in time to show the expedition’s launch in 1845 and its early days in the Arctic. 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.
Simmons brings the horrific trials and tribulations of arctic exploration vividly to life in this beautifully written historical, which injects a note of supernatural horror into the 1840s Franklin expedition and its doomed search for the Northwest Passage … This complex tale should find many devoted readers and add significantly to Simmons's already considerable reputation.