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!