Top positive review
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A great "disaster" historical novel with the fantastic thrown in
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!