Friday, April 25, 2014

Fiction Review: Blackout

Oxford, England in 2060. A trio of time traveling scholars prepare to depart for various corners of the Second World War. Their mission: to observe, from a safe vantage point, the day-to-day nature of life during this critical historical moment.

Willis, Connie (2011). [Genre: Sci-fi, Speculative] 

Blackout has been on my pile for a couple of years now, after a recommendation from a bookish friend (sorry C for taking so long to get to it). It's set in Oxford in 2060. Time-travel having been perfected sometime between now and then, Oxford's history students are now engaged in research projects throughout time. Blackout follows three of these students, doing research in separate parts of WWII. Mike is studying everyday heroes at Dunkirk, Polly is working as a shopgirl on Oxford Street during the Blitz and Merope is undercover as a maid at a country house, witnessing the child evacuees. Soon though, all three realise that everyday life in WWII is far more dangerous than they realised and there are also deeper problems coming their way. 

There were a few plotholes in Blackout. Having been a history student myself, I find it very hard to believe that advanced-level history students specialising in WWII would have such little knowledge of the war outside of the specific moment in time they are studying. Their ignorance simply makes the book a little less believable. 

If you suspend your disbelief over that and the couple of other little holes though, Blackout is a very fun ride. Willis' research is incredible in scope, which makes the journey of each of the three main characters all the more terrifying. It feels incredibly real and you feel Polly's difficulty in moving around London and Merope's terror at the bombs. 

The plot is thrilling and hurtles along at a terrific pace despite the size of the novel, with each character's situation rapidly descending into chaos. We start with alternate chapters set in WWII and 2060, but as it becomes apparent that something has gone seriously wrong with the time-travel the chapters in 2060 disappear until we only have the perspective of the historians trapped in time. As a motif it works well and adds to the 'thriller' appeal. Several chapters outside of the main narrative add to the mystery. 

I was a little disappointed that the book ended without any resolution whatsoever. Obviously this is a case of one story split into two books, rather than a true duology (as reflected by the very close together original release dates). I'll be tracking down All Clear as soon as possible so I can find out what happens next. 

Overall? 4/5 stars. Blackout is a thrilling ride and appealed to my historian side 

Blackout is one of the books on my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge list

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