I'll admit, it is a hefty tome and before beginning it, I was a little intimidated by the sheer size of the thing. The edition which is shown above is the one I bought and it is 784 pages long.
The book is based on the lost expedition led by Sir John Franklin to find the elusive North West passage in the Arctic circle.
The book is written with each chapter being titled with a character name, as that chapter will focus on them, and a date. For the first part of the book, each consecutive chapter will switch between the present part of the story to a time before the expedition even began or an earlier point in the expedition. The way Simmons transitions from past to present and maintains the flow of the story will remind the reader of some of his other books and had me thinking about the TV show "Lost". I haven't read many writers who are as adept at this as Simmons.
The beginning of the story paints a vivid and ghastly picture of what our protagonists are up against, tensions within and without the crew and ship. I was left to wonder at times if it was the book that was making me cold or the actual weather, such is the impression of sheer cold that Simmons imparts. Simmons devotes a fair amount of the words in this book to depicting just how desperately cold it is and so he should as many situations and characters are driven by the cold.
Simmons will make you despair almost as much as the sailors as he lays the severity of the situation on you like six feet of snow. When we join the story, the two ships are frozen into an arctic ice flow which is slowly crushing inwards on the vessels, there is an unheard of beast which is stalking the ice around them and there is a growing potential for mutiny.
Simmons also gives us a lot of detail about his characters and there are a lot of them. To me this is necessary because, as it is based on true events, we already know the ending. People are going to die and the only way to make it interesting is to get us invested in the characters, all of the major ones are memorable. I myself was hoping with every page that I turned that characters would be granted a miraculous reprieve.
There is also a lot of factual knowledge about the ships of the period, the economy of the British Navy at the time and references to other great expedition leaders. All of this information gives us more understanding of the dire situation at hand and it is also very interesting.
While reading this book, I pushed the knowledge of what happens to the back of my mind and even forgot it at times, I hoped that rescue was imminent. It never is and as the story progresses the situation deteriorates further than you would initially fathom. The points which some characters are driven to and the way Simmons gives it to us leaves me in awe.
I absolutely loved the book. It's one of the best I have read. It's not for everyone, I know. The dark and depressing nature of the book as a whole will be too much for some. Dan Simmons walks a fine line here, between supernatural thriller and historical fiction and manages to pull it off while juggling more characters than most other writers are capable of.
The ending of the book will leave some people saying to themselves "that's it". I always say to them, think of a better one and get back to me. The journey is the reward here.
Overall 10 out of 10.