The Terror: A Beautiful Mess of a Novel
The Terror by Dan Simmons
A while ago, a TV show premiered called The Terror and it looked great. It looked like it was in my wheelhouse as I am a lover of the horror genre and always seem to be a bit of sucker for period piece dramas like Hell on Wheels, Turn, and Babylon Berlin. Then I began to watch and became bored as the cast was a bunch of the dullest and driest characters I’ve see on TV in a long time. And since time is a precious resource I turned it off. But shortly after the premier of the show, the book went on sale and I saw it was written by Dan Simmons. And Dan Simmons is an author I have been wanting to try for a while, so I gone why not? The show could have been a bad adaption and the book might be better. So here is my review of The Terror.
The book follows real life lost Franklin expedition into the artic to find the mythical Northwest Passage. The book takes a horror spin to what happened to the missing crew. It begins in 1847. Two ships, The Terror and The Erebus are trapped in the ice. They cut too far into it using a new engine and now find themselves stuck in the ice so thick that, they are not sure that it will ever thaw enough to get out in the summer and they are suffering through one of the worst winters imaginable. And everything is going wrong. Shifting ice is tearing apart the ships. They are running out of coal. A good portion of the canned foods they got turns out to be bad. Caption Franklin had so much pride that he did not leave letters at the drop offs giving them a chance to have rescue teams to find them. Scurvy is beginning to take hold. And a strange beast it picking them off one by one. This beast is a force that no one can kill. And through this, the story follows Caption Francis Cozier, Surgeon Harry Goodsir, James Fitzjames, and Lieutenant Irving
To be blunt this book is such a mixed bag. So let’s start with the good first. The book is well written. At times I felt like I was reading favorite authors, and I could easily mistake it one of their novels. The action is fantastic. The details are gruesome. And the dire situation is reflected wonderfully. These men are trapped in frozen hell and it seemed grounded and so realistic that the reader could really feel their pain. They all go through so much and come so far that the reader really feels bad for a character when he doesn’t make it. Speaking of which, the characters are not great but have an interesting evolution worth applauding. The main cast are mostly high ranking officers in His Majesty’s Royal Navy, and they are dry and snooty. I found them unlikable. But there’s a point where that ranking becomes nothing and they all become men trying to survive and in result characters become more unique and pronounced. And that evolution was very clever and well written. Also the monster, I kind of love the idea of it. It is just a demonic polar bear of sorts. It’s more primal. Giant. Longer neck. Sharper features. And seems to do things that no animal can do. I just loved the simplicity of it.
And now the bad? This book is 947 pages longs and this should have been probably should have been between 500 to 600 pages. The book derails time to time and has story threads that go nowhere. One derailment was to explore Crozier’s past love life for 50 pages that held no relevance. Neither did Irving’s adventure into his past days of the girls he loved. Then there is Lady Silence, a native woman taking refuge on the ship. The book must spend almost a 150 pages on focusing on Irving trying to speak to her and build some kind of relationship with Silence and it goes nowhere. Then there’s incident where she is saved from the crew because the captain states they need her to learn to hunt in the arctic, but none of the book addresses the crew trying to learn this by any means. They just continue to starve without even trying to learn from her. It just seemed pointless. And then the end comes. About ninety pages from the end the book stops and out of nowhere tells a long winded myth about a where the bear came from and who the natives are. Just out of the blue it turns into a text book. And for the rest of the story Crozier and Silence wonder around the cold wasteland. They do not confront the monster again. The demon bear, the antagonist is just forgotten and there is no climax. And though the lack of a proper grand finale is annoying, the fact that this story is so bloated with pointless material is a bigger crime. I think back to my favorite authors who wrote thrillers similar to this such as Crichton, Rollins, and Ludlum. In those books, every plot thread and story element had a point and was essential to the story. Here in this tale there is at least 350 pages worth of material that is just pointless fluff. And that is so frustrating to me, because the core story other than the extremely cheap way they did the ending, was fantastic. But all this other stuff around the core story weighed it down so much and hurt it. This should have been better. And could have been with a tighter focus and a more thought out ending.
Overall, this book is a strange conundrum for me. It’s almost great. I can see the great ideas, scary moments, suspense, and just great overall writing. But the extra unneeded stuff really bored me to tears. And the unneeded story threads frustrated me. And that ending! What happened? Was a deadline the next day? Did Dan Simmons run out of ideas and was trying to force a square block into around hole just to make something work? This book is a beautiful mess in a lot of ways, but not a train wreck. But I think there is still a lot of good here. I will recommend this read to those who want to take the risk, but be warned. This is a long book and I hope this review prepares you for all the flaws.
2 ½ smoothies out of Four
Overall Rating: A Beautiful Mess of a Novel.