When the Oxford time travel lab starts canceling assignments and switching around schedules, three time-traveling graduate student historians fight to keep their long-researched projects on track. Michael Davies, equipped with a new American accent, is prepping for Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is studying child evacuations into the country but really wants to go to VE-Day. And Polly Churchill plans to study the use of Underground train stations as bomb shelters while she works as a shopgirl in the middle of London. When they all finally arrive in WWII, one thing after another goes wrong, and the students begin to question the universe’s firmly established rules of time travel.
I love the street-level view of WWII that celebrates the courage and quiet heroism of ordinary people doing small things to aid the war effort. Blackout is a both suspenseful (like Doomsday Book) and witty (like To Say Nothing of the Dog), and more richly textured than both. Every facet of life in The War is delicately researched and flawlessly executed. You will hear the bombs dropping overhead!
However, I’m removing a star rating because alll three primary characters have the same motivation (to get home) which results in redundant plot lines and less distinct personalities compared to Willis’ previous books in this series. That’s not to say there aren’t any memorable characters in Blackout — ill-behaved street urchins Alf and Binnie Hodbin, erudite Shakespearean actor Sir Godfrey Kingsmen, and the greedy landlady Mrs. Ricket are just a few of the characters with personalities that overshadow the lost time-travelers. Blackout continues the series of suspenseful fiction that’s also smart, and so I’m off to start reading the conclusion, All Clear.
Recommended for Anglophiles, fans of time travel, and WWII. The duo Blackout/All Clear won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus, so have All Clear standing by to pick up the story right where it left off!
“I’m not studying the heroes who lead navies—and armies—and win wars. I’m studying ordinary people who you wouldn’t expect to be heroic, but who, when there’s a crisis, show extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice. Like Jenna Geidel, who gave her life vaccinating people during the Pandemic. And the fishermen and retired boat owners and weekend sailors who rescued the British Army from Dunkirk. And Wells Crowther, the twenty-four-year-old equities trader who worked in the World Trade Center. When it was hit by terrorists, he could have gotten out, but instead he went back and saved ten people, and died. I’m going to observe six different sets of heroes in six different situations to try to determine what qualities they have in common.”