Bravery and boldness are defeated by ignorance and the elements in a fictional treatment of Sir John Franklin’s doomed search for the Northwest Passage in 1845.
To Franklin’s mostly young crew of 135, as they set out from Greenland on the ships Erebus and Terror, it must have seemed scientific and perfectly possible to make the first northern passage of the American continent. The party had with them three years’ worth of canned provisions, and they were equipped to photograph their findings. The two ships carried auxiliary steam engines, and the expedition’s leaders had both Arctic and Antarctic experience. But what a daunting schedule, by necessity, they had set for themselves. Given the brevity of polar summers and the depth of the ice pack, they set out knowing they would have to spend at least two very long winters frozen fast in the Arctic Ocean. What they did not and perhaps could not foresee after a successful first wintering was the possibility of sailing at the end of the second summer into a harbor that had opened only on a fluke, a once-in-years thawing that, after it had refrozen, kept Erebus and Terror permanently icebound and unable to continue. Compounding the misery: corrupt canned goods leading to rampant scurvy and maybe poisoning. Edric’s thoroughly capable and evenhanded treatment in this reconstruction of the unknowable moves relentlessly and fairly quickly through what must have been agonizingly long periods of inaction, concentrating wisely on the younger, lesser-known members of the team, leaving the leaders to their encyclopedia entries. Most importantly, British author Edric, whose first US appearance this is, makes clear the Victorian sanity and scientific attitude that are too often written off as victims of the mania for exploration.
A masterly re-creation of an ultimately ruinous journey.