Seriously. I shrugged my way through 996 pages (why oh why was this book so freaking long?) and at the end said well that was...something. Simmons jumps from person to person in this almost 1,000 page book. We also get shifting timelines (oh joy...wait no joy, I usually always hate it when authors do this) and then creation stories thrown in here and there as well.
I wish that I had liked this book more than I did. I love historical fiction for the most part, and I like to see an author's spin on an actual event. Simmons goes and does his own spin on what happened to to Captain Sir John Franklin's lost expedition, see Franklin's lost expedition-wikipedia. I was fascinated to read the bare bones about this expedition and was excited to see how Simmons was going to spin things about how the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus were lost.
I would say that the ultimate main character is Captain Francis Crozier. We also get third person point of views from other characters such as Captain John Franklin, Dr. Harry D.S. Goodsir, Third Lieutenant John Irving, Mr. Tom Blanky (Ice Master), Hickey (caulker's mate) Chief Petty Officer Harry Peglar, Mr. John Bridgens, First Mate Charles Des Voeux, and Thomas Jopson.
Believe me that is a lot of character points of views to wade through even though this was a really long book. And honestly without the chapter headings for some of these people I would have been totally lost about who was "speaking" at various times while reading. I had a lot of notes while reading this one since many of them were reminding myself of certain dates and making sure that I knew who certain people were since sometimes they were referred to in other characters chapters.
I wish that if we kept up with anyone, we would have kept up with just Crozier, Irving, and Goodsir. They were the most interesting characters to me while reading and the ones I kept rooting for while wading through this book. I really don't understand why Franklin's POV was even included in this one. Or Hickey's for that matter.
Frankly the one character I really disliked was Hickey. I hated that Simmons chose to make this character gay and also it read like he was possibly a pedophile (I can't really tell, there was a throwaway line about him pressuring younger boys on the expeditions to do what he liked) and evil. I mean you could have this character just generally be a bad apple who then turns evil based on what the expedition is going through. I can't imagine slowly starving to death and freezing on top of that. That would be enough for a lot of men to decide to turn against one another. I just think throwing his sexuality on top of everything was gratuitous.
We also get the character of Lady Silence (called by the crew) who is an Inuit (Esquimax) young woman who is also staying on the Erebus with her crew. It takes a long winding road for the reader to understand how Lady Silence ended up on the ship. My question was why the heck did she even stay based on what we find out later on in the book. Or at least not do something when we find out about what is going on. Heck I had that same question for the character of Irving. It took me completely out of the story after it is revealed what he has seen for it all to be handwaved away by love.
Overall, I think taking a historical incident and trying to give your own spin on it is very tricky. I honestly don't think that Simmons pulls it off that well. Or maybe I am just a jerk. One of the things I read about that occurred was that there were many Inuit who saw these crewman. I am baffled that no one would seek out the Inuits help. There are a couple of guesses that because of cultural norms/prejudice that the crew of the Terror and Erebus would not have looked for help, and I wished that the book had touched upon that a little bit better. If I see nomadic people about who look well fed and warm, I am darn sure I would have stopped and asked how were they doing it and or begged for food.
Introducing the "horror" aspect to this book at first works out really well. I found myself fascinated by how the crew was dealing with the fact that they were slowly being stalked to death. Then it all kind of went pear shaped a bit when Simmons starts to overexplain things and ties it back to some Inuit legends. I really wish that he had left that part alone. I don't need to know why something evil exists, if I am reading the book, it's enough for me that it exists and is doing really horrible things.
The writing was fairly crisp in a lot of places. But, I will say that without the chapter headings with dates I would have been totally lost about who was "speaking". It didn't help that for the first 1/3 of the book the book jumps between Captain Crozier, Captain Franklin, and Dr. Goodsir. That really got on my nerves after a while since we get some major reveals when I realized we were jumping back and forth between "present' and past and then referring to events that occurred in the past that we as readers were still not at yet. Why he chose to not just tell this story in a linear format is beyond me. It added nothing doing it this way, and also took away a lot of major reveals that I would have been shocked by. Instead, I already knew for the most part what was coming, and instead waited to get there.
Also the flow was pretty terrible from beginning to end. If you write a 1,000 page book, I think that flow is one of those things you have to keep your eye on. This book didn't make me interested enough to read it straight through or even try to.
The setting of the Arctic was really good though. I do like how Simmons describes the cold, the silence, the sky, etc. I felt the crews hunger when described as well. I would have been over this whole thing a good week into it though, I don't like cold weather much.
The ending didn't tie up some of the remaining loose threads which was a bit disappointing.