Synopsis From Back Cover:
The men on board the HMS Terror - part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage - are entering a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. Endlessly cold, they struggle to survive with poisonous rations, a dwindling coal supply, and ships buckling in the grip of crushing ice. But their real enemy is even more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror clawing to get in.
I will have to admit that I almost put it down after the first 20 or so pages because it was moving a little slow and wasn't all that interesting. Thankfully I stayed the course and found myself immersed in a situation that I could not imagine actually happening. The fact that this book uses a real account of a doomed exploratory mission that ended up with two missing ships with both crews dead, makes it all the more compelling.
I found myself wincing at the descriptions of the living conditions on icebound ships with no heat and dwindling food. The heartbreaking suffering and senseless deaths are so real that you feel you are watching them happening. The desperation is palpable and as a reader you can't help but get caught up in it.
Now if this was the only element to the story I would have been happy, the fact that they were being stalked by an unknown foe and being ripped apart, made me ecstatic. The elements of the supernatural that are laced throughout the book are like the whip cream on top of a hot fudge sundae. Using Eskimo mythology (which I can honestly say I've never though all that much about before) to explain the monster captured my imagination.
I know I've read a lot of reviews that take issue with the pacing of the novel. Quite honestly I understand where those feelings come from. The pace never really picks up and at times you feel like you are plodding through snow and ice to get to the good stuff. Myself, I thought it added to the story. These men were stuck on the open ice for over two years, their lives are slow and plodding. Would it make sense to tell their story any other way? Besides the point, if this story was told in any faster of a fashion, we would have missed out on so many of the lush details and characters that I feel made the book what it is.
There are some terrific, complicated characters sprinkled throughout the story. Some you will hate, others you will love, and some you could care less about. I found myself getting emotional over a couple of the deaths though it tended to be of the more minor characters. I missed them when they were gone and I felt like saying a small prayer to speed their souls along.
One aspect of the characterization I found to be the most interesting involved two different gay couples. None of the four men are all that prominent though two of them are talked about more than the others. The way homosexuality is treated in this book, especially in the beginning. I found myself wincing over the usage of the word sodomite, though I know it's fits the era of when this happened. The fact that the two sodomites in question are about as based and evil as you can get surrounded by ice and snow made it all the more difficult for me to read. I was beginning to think this was going to be another old fashioned stereotype of what gay men are like. I thought I was going to have to swallow my feelings because other than these two characters I was enjoying the journey. The author had something else in mind. He introduces two characters, one on each of the ships, that were lovers before the expedition. They had done nothing about it so far but they are able to reconnect and make peace with each other in such a way that I found myself in love with both of them. There was such tenderness, love, and true friendship between the two that I was rooting for them to survive. The fact that their story is told amongst the despair and violence made this book for me.
I guess this concludes my rambling review of a book that when I started it, I wasn't expecting to love as much as I did. For anyone who has started it but couldn't finish it or for anyone who hasn't read it yet, I would encourage you to give it a shot and remember to be patient with it. The payoff is well worth the time.
This will qualify for the R.I.P V Challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings, the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010 hosted by Book Chick City.