Book Review — The Terror

The Terror audiobook cover art

The Terror is the fictional story of the Franklin expedition through the Northwest Passage in 1845. HMS Terror did exist and did have some previous fame attached to it. The ship newly commissioned in 1813 was one of the bomb ships at the Ft McHenry that Francis Scott Key wrote about in the Star Spangled Banner. The bomb ships were built extra sturdy to withstand the launching of mortars. This sturdiness made the ships prime candidates for Arctic and Antarctic service being better able to withstand the pressures of the ice. HMS Terror served in the Arctic in 1839 and Antarctic service in 1840-1843. Captain Francis Crozier was given command of the Terror in 1839 and sailed with The Erebus both in the Antartic and in The Northwest Passage exploration known as the Franklin expedition after the captain of the Erebus. Both ships were seen entering Baffin Bay in August of 1845. This was the last sighting of the ships until The Erebus was discovered in 2014 and the Terror in 2016 underwater near King William Island. Here the history ends.

The story jumps around a bit at the start introducing characters and character histories.  The Captains are real as are some of the crew.  How much liberty was taken with the biographies or how many characters were simply made up is unknown to the reader.  The ships and crew are weathering their second winter trapped in the ice west of King William Island.  With Winter temperatures dropping well below -50F both physical and psychological effects play on the men.  The ships are cramped and essentially unheated.

Terror comes in many forms.  It is the isolation with little hope of rescue.  Terror is the endless winter nights and the groaning of the ice. It is in canned food.  Three years provisions were secured at a cut-rate price for the expedition.   Some canned swelled, some provisions were not properly heated/sterilized before canning.  Botulism and lead also provided threats.  Cold was always a threat.  Layers of clothing helped but made life difficult. The clothes were bulky and remained unwashed.  Some advancement in medicine were known such as carrying lemon juice to fight scurvy.  The only animals on the ice were polar bears, a threat in themselves.  Finally, as an added terror, something is killing the men.  Only glimpses of the creature are seen by the survivors.  The best description of the creature is a polar bear of unbelievable size.  This is where the novel drifts into a more supernatural thriller than historical fiction.

I did enjoy the realism of the early expedition.  The hardships were well written as well as the role of the captains.  With limited or no communications the ship’s captains were the law not only for the crew but as representatives of their nation at times creating national policy in faraway lands. Scurvy remained a dreadful disease and Simmons documents its effects extremely well. Also represented in the story are the Royal Marines.  Their role in ship security and as a land force is noted.  Although little is known about the actual happenings aboard these ships, the life aboard a British ship is documented well.

A well written and lengthy account of early arctic exploration, hubris, and terror — Part historical fiction, part thriller.


1 Comment

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One response to “Book Review — The Terror

  1. Cool! Going to my TBR list!

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