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The following review contains spoilers: beware!

Dan Simmons is a great writer and as with most of his work, The Terror doesn’t disappoint — or at least the first two-thirds of the book don’t. This meaty tome concerns the fate of the two ships (Terror and Erebus) of the British Franklin Expedition, sent to discover the famed Northwest Passage in the 1840s. They ended up getting stuck in the ice for three years (!) before all dying. The exact details of their fate have only begun to be uncovered. Do some research and dig up the details of the expedition’s history, it’s really a fascinating tale, and the fact that Simmons works within the historical framework adds significantly to the book’s quality.

You see, in addition to the real world explanations for why they all died — starvation, scurvy, the cold, poisoned food — Simmons has added a few more: a monster that stalks and kills many as well as a mutiny. Good stuff.

So what prevented this book from being a five star book? It’s a brilliant atmospheric horror tale, after all. The ending and the “revelation” of the origins of the creature that had been stalking the men of the ship were the book’s downfalls. I don’t want to go into too many spoilers here, but the ending is a real let-down, with no real resolution or coherent discussion (the “explanation” relies too heavily on incoherently presented Eskimo mythology) of what was going on. Which is too bad, because with a better ending, this could have been one of the classics.

Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers