I couldn’t let winter end without telling you about “The Terror” by Dan Simmons. Did you think that the -20 degree days we had this year were scary? Well, make that -70 degrees and picture your food supply rotting while trying to avoid a terrible demise at the hands (claws?) of a vicious snow beast who hunts humans with specific glee. Oh, and imagine that you’re low on rum. That’s the fate of the men of the Terror and Erebus, a two-ship expedition to find the Northwest Passage.
The triumphant crew of the Erebus and Terror, led by Sir John Franklin, begins with high hopes of finding a short way to Asia via the yet-undiscovered Northwest Passage. The plan gets literally stuck, for years, when the ships are frozen in place. Sir John dies right away, and a lot of the book is told from the perspective of the his captain, Captain Crozier. The crew slowly dwindles away as the group scrapes and scratches across the Arctic, seeking rescue. War books and other stories of extreme human suffering tend to stick around in my head for a while, but “The Terror” takes it to a new level.
The psychological aspects are just as [insert favorite synonym for scary] as the outright gore. And what’s a good ol’ exploration book if cannibalism isn’t at least alluded to? The book was relentlessly scary. Simmons pens some amazing descriptions; the reader feels the cold, craves the rum and fears the beast, as if right there on the ship. Unlike a lot of other horror fiction, this book does not disappoint in the end. The message is one of caution against arrogance when dealing with nature. Work with it, don’t try to defeat it.
If you like your history fictional, frightening and with a twist of supernatural, check out “The Terror.” Read past dark at your own risk. Brrrrr.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: This week Caitlin and Natalie return to discussing books after sharing their favorite area book dealers with us throughout that last few weeks.