The Terror is my first Dan Simmons novel, and I have to say that I’m really very impressed. I wasn’t at all sure what to expect, but found the story really gripping and I read what is a fairly chunky book (at over 750 pages) in pretty quick time for me.

So this is based on the true story of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the North West Passage in the 1840s, an attempt that failed with the apparent loss of the crews of the two ships involved, The Erebus and The Terror. Over the years it has become clear that the ships had become stuck in the ice and that the men succumbed to scurvy, starvation, botulism and lead poisoning, the latter from the poorly soldered cans in which much of their food was provided. Dan Simmons builds all this into his tale, but adds a little something extra – what if there was also something out on the ice stalking the men, picking them off, something not natural….?

I couldn’t tear myself away from this, picking it up at every spare moment to find out what was going to happen next. The story is told from the viewpoints of several of the main characters, almost all based on real crew members; this works really well. There is a real sense of foreboding in the novel and the sensation that even the widest of wide-open spaces can be oppressive when you can’t get away. I even enjoyed all the detail about ship-board life, the difference between whaleboats and pinnaces, and I now know much more about the effects of scurvy than I probably wanted to! I also know a little bit more about Inuit mythology than I did before. I found the resolution satisfying, and the mixture of historical fiction and horror worked well, so recommended.

This is my first read for the RIP III challenge.

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