Book review of “The Glass Ocean” by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White.
The sinking of the Lusitania by Germany was the tragic event that brought America into the first World War. In this novel, the three co-authors, look at that event through the eyes of three women, two of whom survived the disaster, and one woman, Sarah Blake, who looking into the past to find inspiration for her next book by hopefully uncovering the truth about her great-grandfather, who was a purser on the ship. The two passengers are Tessa Fairweather and Caroline Telfair Hochstetter, whose paths end up crossing despite their sailing on separate classes. Goodreads says “As the Lusitania steams toward its fate, three women work against time to unravel a plot that will change the course of their own lives . . . and history itself.
First, I want to apologize to Williams, Willig and White (who I will refer to as “Team W” from now on) for not publishing this review sooner (I hope will you forgive me since the delay was due to a vacation abroad that included research into my own historical fiction novel), but better late than never, right? That said, I’ve had quite a bit of time to think about this book, which further shaped my opinion, but not by much. To begin with, I immediately found that each of “Team W” are well adept in building fascinating, and highly sympathetic characters. If I had to rate them, I’d say I liked Tessa the best, and almost equally Sarah, with Caroline being my least favorite (but only by a whisper).
I mention this because for me, often how authors portray characters can make or break a novel. In this instance, I am assuming that the three writers worked primarily on one character each, which not only gave each of the female protagonists their own perspective, but also their own distinct voices. Sarah, for instance, is the one looking back at the past, trying to uncover a mystery, that may or may not have some special connection to her own family. Her modern voice is bold and unguarded, but being a historian, she still has a nostalgic streak, which beautifully connects her to the past and both Tessa and Caroline.
Since Tessa and Caroline are both from the historical parts of the story, their accounts are in “real time” but yet very different. Tessa’s lower-class status, allows her to be blunter than Caroline, without being rude (for the most part). She also has the type of wit and quick mind that assists her with her less than honest schemes, as well as hide her own emotions. As for Caroline, she isn’t your classic high-society woman. She’s passionate, intelligent, and forthright when the world around her prefers quiet, unassuming women who adorn the scenery and defer to their husbands. However, she is a woman who is torn between loving her husband, and falling for a man whose character more closely matches her own.
With these women, and their individual love interests (and thankfully, the romance parts are not at all gratuitous, and they work well in furthering the plot), we have the mystery that connects them all. Team W artfully weaves the subterfuge and intrigue into the story, which they carefully unfold with just the right pacing, and switching between the past and the present, to keep our interest throughout. If I have one criticism of this book, it would be that there was an essential part of the plot from the opening of the book that never got satisfactorily resolved. Because of this, I felt that the ending was just a tiny bit disappointing, although still satisfying for the most part. Admittedly, because “Team W” did such a marvelous job describing the bombing of the ship and the panic that ensued, followed by the horrible aftermath with the survivors and the victims made for such an exciting climax that practically anything after that would naturally feel a touch lackluster by comparison.
All told, “Team W” have given us a truly enthralling novel and their collaboration feels seamless, even though they must have worked almost equally apart, as they did together. By the way, I was already slightly familiar with two of the Ws here – Williams and Willig – since they both contributed to the short story collection “Fall of Poppies.” When I saw their names on this book, I knew I had to read it, and now I also want to see what else White has written. As you can see, I truly enjoyed this book, I can warmly recommend it, and I believe it deserves a very healthy four and a half stars out of five.
William Morrow – Harper Collins released “The Glass Ocean” by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White on September 4, 2018. This book is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, Kobo audio books, eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review.