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.