The Terror by Dan Simmons
Abridged, 8 hr. 54 min.
Simon Vance (Narrator)
December 20, 2006
Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller (Horror), Suspense
Source: Downloaded audio from my local library
“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.”
Don’t let the classification of Historical Fiction/Horror turn you off from this book – I probably would classify it as more of a thriller. It wasn’t scary; it was intense and kept you riveted to the sheer “terror” that being stranded in the frozen north could entail, but it was nothing that would keep you awake at night shaking in your boots. It is a tale of the struggle for survival against nature, man, and beast.
The author uses a blend of historical facts known about the Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage and Inuit mythology about the area to craft a tale of what could have possibly happened to the stranded crew. This was for the most part a flawless blend. There was one part toward the end where it was a little more “telling” the mythos than “showing” which got a little boring, but I think it might have been slightly attributable to the fact that the version I was reading was abridged – it might have been smoother in the unabridged version (please correct me if I am wrong!). At some points you have to suspend reality a little bit, but the author’s writing sort of puts you in the mindset of these men who were trapped for about 2 years in the frozen Arctic. You can sort of see where the distinction between reality and delusion could blur.
As there is not a lot known of what ultimately happened to the crew, the author has a lot of creative license to work with. However, the author does a great job with the historical background of previous expeditions to discover the Northwest Passage as well as the prior expedition of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus to the Antarctic.
Reading this story quickly brought to mind the story of the Donner Party – some of the events are similar in terms of a small group just trying to survive winter weather and what it will do to the minds of men. Simmons does a great job of evoking just how harrowing it might have been.
The writing was riveting reading and I was compelled to come back to the book every time. It was a sort of “what could possibly go wrong for them now” pull toward the page.
The narration of this book was top notch. Simon Vance was also the narrator for Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which I read last year, and I certainly recognized his performance. He was able to take a book that I would otherwise not have enjoyed (Bring Up the Bodies) and make it enjoyable; and he did a fantastic job with The Terror. As I said in my Bring Up the Bodies review: he did a fabulous job with voices and creating unique characters that I could identify each time by just the tone of his voice. He made me hate the antagonist character even more because the voice was annoying! Truly one of my favorite audiobook narrators (and I have a very short list!).
The only production issue I had was with the beginning of the book. It sort of jumps around in the narration a little when establishing some of the characters back stories – and with the audio it was a little difficult to tell when we were in the present and when we were in the past.
Dan Simmons has written many books, but those among the historical fiction genre include: Drood and the upcoming The Abominable. You can visit the author’s website for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
Did you know that AMC is in development to make a drama series of this novel? You know it will be good, as all of their drama programing has been!
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