Thursday, February 11, 2010

Historical Fiction with a twist

by Connie Willis

After his trip to the Black Death five years ago, Colin wants to time travel again, but Mr. Dunworthy won't hear of it. And right now Mr. Dunworthy has his hands full, anyways: going to St. Paul's in 1950 for some unknown reason and to London to speak with someone who raises troubling questions about time travel. Not to mention, many of his operatives' schedules change last minute, throwing wrenches in the works for people like Michael Davies, who was given an implant to have an American accent in Pearl Harbor only to be told he's going to Dunkirk instead. Because of the schedule changes, Michael, Merope ("Eileen" while on assignment), and Polly Churchill are all observing various aspects of World War 2: ordinary heroes, evacuated children, and Londoners in bomb shelters, respectively. But their assignments seem to be getting out of control, starting with the substantial slippage that Mike and Polly experience, and continuing downhill from there.

Though easily accessible as a standalone, Blackout may also appeal to readers who would recognize returning characters from Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Once you get into the meat of the book you're experiencing historical fiction with a twist: the characters you're following are from 2060, not 1940. Following their stories can be a little confusing at first, because though they all left within days of each other in 2060, they're in different whens from 1939-1940, and the story is told not chronologically but by following Mike, Eileen, or Polly for a chapter or two each. But the extra effort is worth it in the end. The characters are wonderful, and I really found myself caring not just about the main characters but also the "contemps" like Marjorie the shop girl and the terrible Hodbins. I really got lost in the story as I just had to find out what happens next, reading the last half of the book or so nearly in one sitting. If you're adverse to cliffhangers, I suggest waiting to read this one until All Clear comes out in the fall.

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