CW: negative portrayal of homosexuality, sexism, gross comments about Inuit women, and general violence/gore
If we want to be technical, this is the last book I read in November. But, I’m going to count it as my first December read.
November 30th, I literally had nothing to do on an evening (very rare moment) so I decided to curl up on my couch with a blanket, a beer, and my puppies to see how much I could read of it.
I had around 200 pages left of said book. I had a feeling that, if I really pushed myself, I could finish it. And, I did!
There are definitely things that I didn’t like about the book, but my overwhelming sense was that it was a solid book, one that I’d eagerly read again despite knowing the outcome. Hell, I knew the outcome going into the book because I watched the TV show first. And, just so y’all know, the TV show is really good. Highly recommend it. I actually recommend watching it before reading the book so you have visuals of the many characters.
So, what were the things I didn’t like?
I think the main thing in this is just the treatment of women in it. There are no good women, really. Lady Silence — an Inuit women who doesn’t talk in the book at all and is a side character for most of it — is all there is, but she’s reduced to the stereotypical viewpoint Victorian men had of “exotic” women. Which comes across as nasty and sexist to me, a modern, feminist reader. It was spot on for the time period, but it still felt gross to read it.
Then, there was the treatment of one Englishwoman that left a bad taste in my mouth as well, although I won’t really get into it too much here since it’s a pretty minor part of the book.
Another area that I wasn’t a fan of is the portrayals of homosexual relationships among the crew. I use “homosexual” because these are men that would, likely, identify as straight and just are using these relationships because they’re the only thing available to them on the ship. It wasn’t unheard of, after all. But there was one sweet relationship — largely portrayed as asexual — and another that was definitely more sexually charged and was “evil”. So, it felt bad to a modern reader, although, again, it was accurate for the period this is set in.
The book also did a lot of genre-jumping. Because it’s horror. But then there’s also weird spiritual stuff and some appropriation of Inuit religion. Then, suddenly, one of the characters is like a medium, so going with the spiritualism movement that began in this period. And then it was romance? Kind of? (Not really.)
Either way, the lack of genre made it sometimes difficult to get into the story since I like books that largely keep with one genre.
However, God, was the plot good. As I said, I’ve seen the show. I’ve watched it twice and desperately want to watch it again after reading this. The plot, for those who don’t know, is about a lost expedition. It’s based on a true event. Google about Franklin’s lost expedition and you’ll find so much information about it. But, the expedition lost contact in 1847 with the larger world. The ships were finally found in 2014 and 2016. To this day, we don’t really know what happened. From bodies that were found buried, there were signs of disease and cannibalism, but we still don’t know as much as we could.
And this book, obviously, takes a fantastical view of what happened while incorporating what was known from the bodies at the time of writing. It involves TB, lead poisoning, food poisoning, cannibalism, Inuit demons, and so much more.
It’s a wild ride.
I got so attached to the characters, even though I largely knew what would happen to every single one of them thanks to the show. I was on edge. When characters died, I cried for them because I loved them. And, it’s even worse because if you Google the expedition, there’s a manifest of all those who were on the ship. All the names are in the book as characters. I recognized most of them. It was insane to take a step back and realize that these were real people who had died mysteriously. The bodies that have been found haven’t been identified.
In short, if you want a chilling winter read that takes you on a magnificent journey, I highly recommend the book. Dan Simmons knows how to write a story.
What’s your favorite creepy winter read?
Have you read this one? What did you think? Is it on your TBR?