Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Review: I bought these two books second-hand off of a co-worker and was very glad I bought them together because they turned out to be just one story published in two-book format.
I gotta make an aside to rant about the whole split into two books publishing trick. I despise that they have decided that it's acceptable to stop a story mid-word and then publish the rest of it in a separate tome 6 months later. Fortunately I had access to both books and could just read them one after another, but if I had finished the first book and didn't have access to the second, I would have been majorly angry. I am happy to pay twice the cost for a single tome, just don't separate what logically belongs together.
Having gotten that out of the way, I have to say that I enjoyed these books immensely. I have really liked all Willis' books dealing with time-traveling historians and this one has not been an exception. In Blackout, three historians travel to WWII. Eileen is there to observe evacuated children in the countryside, Polly is there for the start of the Blitz, and Mike Davis wants to see the evacuation from Dunkirk. All is well until the historians realize that they cannot get back to the future -- their drops won't open. They find each other and start looking for a way to survive in WWII and find their way back to their own time.
I think the best part about these books are the characters. The main trio is slowly introduced and we get to know them really well by their actions and by the way they interact with others. They are admirable -- maybe a little bit too much so, but they are not without flaws and I really liked all three of them. They are a mix of heroic and mundane, which I thought worked really well. Eileen ends up going above and beyond caring for orphaned children, but she is deathly scared of the war. Polly drives an ambulance around the city and saves lives during the raids, but ends up "doing her bit for the war" as an entertainer who shows her knickers to the soldiers in the audience. Mike is travels to the past to study heroes, but ends up a hero himself, and somewhere along the way realizes that regular people make better heroes than the ones he intended to observe. The book is a study in contrasts and I really enjoyed that.
The supporting cast is pretty colorful too. A troupe that befriends Polly has brilliant characters and Eileen's orphans are indomitable hooligans, who still manage to elicit sympathy. Altogether the characters are what makes this story so compelling.
The other part I really enjoyed is the World War II setting. It's been thematically close to some of the other books I read this year and I really like how Blackout/All Clear shows the war in different contexts and tells more about the lives of people during the war. The book has clearly been researched a lot and I liked filling out my gaps in knowledge. I also enjoyed various humorous bits -- for example the orphans pain blackout stripes on the cows in their neighborhood.
I'd definitely recommend these books to pretty much anyone who likes character-driven stories.