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4.1 out of 5 stars89
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 27 January 2008
The premise of The Terror is the ill-fated Arctic expedition, led by Sir John Franklin, of the 1840s. I must admit I knew nothing about the expedition beyond the basics when I read this novel, and as such I got a little lost when the point of view switches characters, but some research soon cleared that up.

This novel is meant to be historical fiction instead of a factual account, and in that regard it excels. Most of the characters are based on members of the real Franklin expedition, including the protagonist(s). Not wanting to spoil the plot, I'll say that the (fictional) encounters with native Inuits and the mysterious beast stalking the men are seamlessly woven into an historical context.

The plot itself is a marvellous one; gripping and page-turning without resorting to cheap shock moments. The characters are well-established, and you feel a genuine pang of sadness if one dies. I read the whole 950-odd pages in under three days, not because it's a skim-read book (it isn't), but because I was so drawn in. The plot is exciting, with much of the "I have to know what happens next!" of good storytelling.

However, this is not a perfect book. There is no one major bad point, just a few little niggles that conspire to knock a star off the rating.

Firstly, and I understand this is a copy error not a writer error, the proofreading in the paperback copy was shoddy. There are more than a few cases of words running together - "theanimal" - and the typist often uses a quotation mark (") to mark plural possessive (childrens") instead of an apostrophe or other mark. Obviously this is a printer error and not Simmons' error, but it does detract from the story and stop you being drawn in when it happens.

Secondly, there is one exception to the "seamlessly blended history with fiction" as I detailed above. In the middle third of the book, two of the characters are discussing their previous voyage. In just one page they manage to mention Charles Darwin, the Beagle voyage, Lyell's 'Principles of Geology' and Charles Babbage and the computing engine. For myself, this jolted me out of the story somewhat. It felt like Simmons wanted to get even more historical context into the novel than there is already, and suddenly found his opportunity (a conversation between two learned men) to do it. A reference to one of the above three would have been fine, but a long list is a little much, and the fact that no other historical figures are mentioned anywhere else in the book adds to the feeling.

Finally, I have a small issue with one aspect of Crozier's character (a fictional representation of the real explorer Francis Crozier). Again in the middle third of the book, he uses an aspect of his personality to help him through illness (again, I don't want to spoil it). This personality thing comes out of nowhere and goes on for pages and pages. Apparently Crozier has had this ability all his life, yet he's been on an ice-locked ship for two years and we've never heard of it until now. Like the other minor niggles, this isn't a major complaint but it does detract from the story somewhat.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend this book - to any fans of historical fiction, disaster novels, horror novels or Arctic exploring in particular - but to every reader in general. It is an adult book; there are a few sex scenes and gruesome moments, so I wouldn't recommend it to children and younger teenagers. The novel is also quite in-depth and nearly a thousand pages long, so if you're a fan of skim-reading and quick books this isn't for you.

Before you read it, if you're not familiar with the Franklin expedition in history then you might like to do a bit of research, if only to more easily distinguish the characters. Also, I found that the chapter headings are very important, as they contain the date and the person from whose point of view the chapter is told, and as the book (for the first two-thirds at least) is told in a non-chronological fashion keeping track of the dates is key to understanding the plot.

So yes, I'd recommend this novel. I'd never read Dan Simmons before this book, but I'll definitely be seeking more of his work out now!
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VINE VOICEon 23 August 2008
The Terror is based on the true story of the ill-fasted Franklin expedition to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. Two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, set sail to find the passage and were never seen again by white men. Graves and artefacts were found by other later explorers but the story of the hundred plus men will never be fully known.

Simmons cleverly uses this true story as the base for this fantastically thrilling novel. The dark nature of the human psyche is the true monster in this tale, not the huge beast that is methodically slaughtering crew members. The decline of the human body and the human mind is brilliantly explored and proves to be more chilling than the brutal attacks of the white beast. The story is well researched and it's all too easy to imagine yourself there in the dark and the cold, wrapped in clothes that never fully dry out. The invasion of the white Europeans into the lands of the native Inuit is also introduced in this book through the use of Inuit mythology.

This is a large book and the pace is somewhat glacial, if you'll pardon the pun. However, it's well worth the read. Just wrap up warm as you read.
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on 3 April 2008
I was a little hesitant about reading this book, not being a geat fan of historical novels and having been left not particularly impressed by the only other Simmons novel I've read, A Winter Haunting. Generally speaking though, I found this to be an interesting and entertaining read, which, considering it's the best part of a thousand pages and mostly set on an immobile ship is someting of an achievement. Only the epilogue, which was a bit obscure and mystical for my taste, disappointed.

The nature of the story, which takes place over a number of years, and its isolated setting mean that a certain ammount of patience and commitment is required by the reader - not because its boring but because the plot requires the necessary time and detail to reveal itself in a realistic and believable manner. It's as far-removed from the Dan Brown style of smash bang wallop no-time-to-breathe story-telling as you can get.

A word of warning though: this is not a book about a monster - it's a book about a polar expedition with occasional guest appearances by a monster. If you're expecting The Thing you'll be disappointed.

If, like me, you were completely ignorant of the Franklin expedition then this book is also something of an education. Although highly fictionalised it nevertheless inspired me to investigate the factual events that inspired this novel.
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VINE VOICEon 12 April 2008
I loved this book from start to finish. Based on the real voyages to find the North West passage it has historical authenticity but goes way beyond. Dan Simmons crates a claustrophobic and terrifying environment in which little is certain except the unrelenting nature of the cold and dark. He mixes the disturbing effect of isolation and starvation on people with a mysterious threat from outside which defies all normal precautions and considerations to create a frightening and unpredictable whole. In this intense situation characters have to make difficult and often harsh choices and are all the while stalked by the creature on the ice who seems to be able to take them at will. An excellent read. Recomended
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on 25 November 2010
This is one of my favourite novels ever....although I have to admit I don't get a lot of time for reading I devour anything that is set or themed in my birth place.
The Terror describes the ill fated Franklin expedition to find the fable North West Passage...(If I was around I would've been more than happy to point them in the right direction)
As the ships are stuck fast in the ice strange things begin to happen and what follows is a supernatural series of events that the reader is not quite sure is actually happening or not. Starvation starts to affect the men's minds. It is a shame frozen foods weren't invented as I'm sure the lack of vitamin C could have been easily remedied by some frozen petite pois to accompany the seal meat.
But that's beside the point..The Terror is a great thrilling read...I recommend to anyone who wants to experience icy thrills.
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on 26 December 2014
When the weather is cold, dark and bitter there is no better time of year than to start reading The Terror by Dan Simmons. The book is a lengthy historical horror novel following the events of the HMS Terror and its sister ship Erebus, two 19th Century exploration sailing ships trapped in the polar ice of the Arctic Circle and stalked by a mythical snow creature. When the crew have to abandon their ships the morale and order descends even further into chaos as murder and treachery take hold. By shifting perspective between various crew members a growing sense of horror is gradually revealed. Rich in detail The Terror is a book which demands patience on the part of the reader to really appreciate its strengths and terrifying depths. Despite the staggering length of the book I was surprised how easily I sailed through the story, relishing the chilling world that the author has created although the mystical themed ending was a bit disappointing. To conclude The Terror is an immense and involving novel that leaves a strong cold impression long after you’ve finished reading.
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on 26 March 2007
This is one of the most claustrophobic and terrifying books I've read in years. The doomed Franklin mission to the Arctic is one of the great historical dramas of the 19th Century - the lavishly equipped expedition with an experienced crew vanished into the wastes provoking much soul-searching and anguish back in Britain. Then about 20 years ago, a few mummified remains were found in the high Arctic. We now know the men were malnourished, suffering from scurvey, and perhaps most terribly, being poisoned by their own food. We even suspect that cannibalism broke out in the dwindling ranks. But as to what actually happened to the Terror and Erebus - who knows?

Dan Simmons has brilliantly filled in the gap between the departure of the ships and the end of the expedition; he's taken full liberty with artistic licence, but used his historical sources well. The characters feel real (in a sense I suppose they were) and the atmosphere is stifling. An Arctic setting is a classic for confining characters in a small place and allowing tensions to build - if anyone steps outside they're going to die in the cold, so the pressure keeps building.

But then he adds something else - a beast on the ice. Is it a polar bear or something more? And he keeps you guessing for hundreds of pages, almost like a well-directed horror movie, the monster is never quite revealed until the moment is right. Up until then, it, or more often the results of its visits are glimpsed; your imagination does the rest.

Some of the dialogue doesn't quite ring true; being used to teach the reader a little about Naval life, the Arctic, or even at one point, evolution; but the writing is assured and confident, the characters all ring true and most of all - you care about them and their various fates.

A marvellous book - just don't read it last thing at night.
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To be honest, I never thought I would enjoy this novel as much as I did. The Terror was meant to be some sort of break from my preferred speculative fiction picks. The book being based on the true story of the ill-fated Franklin expedition, I was expecting a detailed historical thriller. The Terror is indeed that, and then some! I should have known that an author such as Dan Simmons would have integrated a few "fiction" elements to the mix.

What is beyond the shadow of a doubt the most brilliant facet of this novel is the fact that it reads like a firsthand account. The acknowledgements at the end of the book demonstrate the kind of extensive research which was required to produce such a detailed work. Still, it took a master storyteller to weave all those disparate elements into such an excellent whole. À la Patrick O'Brian, Dan Simmons literally plunges the reader into the day-to-day life aboard HMS Erebus and Terror. Sailors, it seems, at least based on a number of references, share a proclivity for farting. . . As one reads along, you can definitely feel all an expedition through Arctic ice encompasses. Moreover, Simmons captures the frigid landscape and the Siberian temperatures beautifully. The narrative conveys the bone-chilling cold and its repercussions on the two ships and their crews in a manner I've never encountered before.

The characterizations are "top notch," another aspect which makes The Terror a "must read." Much like George R. R. Martin, most of Simmons' chapters showcase a different POV character. Witnessing the crews' struggle for survival through the eyes of such contrasting characters makes for an even better reading experience.

My only complaint would have to be that the book is at times overlong. Of course, any tale that recounts such a voyage down to the smallest of details will not engender a crisp pace. For the most part, this was no problem. And yet, I feel that speeding things up in certain portions of the novel would have helped with the overall rhythm.

I found The Terror to be an intense and satisfying read. If this book doesn't make my Top 10 of 2007, it will have been an incredible year!

If anyone elected not to pick this one up because of The Time Traveler short story/essay, you are missing out on an exceptional novel.

To all you fans looking for quality stand-alone books, look no further. The Terror is what you need!

Check out my blog: [...]
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on 6 January 2015
I think this has become one of my favourit books. I can understand how some people have complained about the ending, the tension is deflated somewhat but it is a small complaint. There are 2 persistent elements that pervade the book, the relentless feeling of cold and an overwhelming feeling of dread. Simmons has an ability to push scenes, characters or set pieces to the extreme. I can't think of another writer that I've read who does this and it is always backed up by Mr Simmons meticulous research. Some reviewers have said the monster in the story or terror, is a sort of background element but I disagree. 2 set pieces in particular, one in which the monster attacks the crew when they are trying to have a carnival, in a set which is based on Poe's short story the Masque of the Red Death and another in which a crew member has to climb the rigging to escape the beast, explify Simmons great ability with set pieces and understanding of the horror genre. A modern genre classic.
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on 10 April 2008
I bought this purely on the strength of reading the back - and thought the idea was intriguing. It is a fictionalised account of the doomed Franklin Expedition to discover the Northwest Passage - how the ice, bad decisions and inadequate provisions push the men of the Terror (actually a name of a ship) and the Erebus to extremes. To further add to the men's woes, Simmons adds a monster that picks off the men here and there. 50 below, hungry and homesick - it's the last thing you'd want.

I actually enjoyed large portions of this book. I found it well written, informative and always interesting. Ship life itself was interesting and I thought Simmons let the book down a bit by adding his 'boogie' monster. It added nothing except making the men's deaths - though inevitable - a bit more unpredictable. I would have happily read this as a factionalised account of the Franklin expedition, the monster I found a little bit daft. Simmons didn't seem to know which way to go - fact or fiction and he chose to opt for neither. It would have made a better book to invent all the characters, ships etc and just go crazy with the monsters....or just stick with fact.

Oh well, I did enjoy it and will probably read more of Simmons work but this just went a bit awry - oh and the ending is odd, but in a dull way.
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