Sir John Franklin’s doomed Arctic expedition that saw the disappearance of 129 men aboard the Erebus and Terror, has long fascinated armchair travelers as well as the scientific community. Simmons has taken this chapter of history and crafted it into a superbly nuanced, complex tale of courage, betrayal, starvation and madness while focusing primarily upon Francis Crozier, a levelheaded honorable man and captain of the Terror. Hopelessly frozen into the sea ice with the long dark of Arctic winter closing in on them, Crozier attempts to keep his crew safe and healthy, a difficult task at best as the cheap tinned food stores poison the body with botulism and the mind with lead. As the men begin descending into madness the frightening creature that stalks them on the sea ice claims more victims. The strange mute Inuit girl dubbed Lady Silence is whispered by the superstitious crew to be a witch yet she may hold the answers to what pursuits them on the pack ice and ultimately it is she who transforms Crozier into one of the Real People.
This haunting mix of historical events, native beliefs and paranormal make for a compelling read while exposing the arrogance of those early explorers. It is also a brilliant testament to the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of brutal conditions and provides a renewed appreciation for the men who searched in vain for the Northwest Passage. Hugo award winning Simmons will certainly add to his fan base with this one but be warned, at 766 pages, this will take some time to get through.