When I started this, I was waiting for a book by Willis that would live up to To Say Nothing of the Dog. When I finished it, I was still waiting.
This is another Oxford time-travelling book, in that it charts the extremely charming concept that by 2060 Oxford University built a time-travelling machine capable of sending people to the past, making the study of history suddenly a thousand times more exciting - and dangerous. There are simple and interesting rules governing time-travel in this universe, namely that time itself will prevent historians from visiting crucial ‘divergence points’. Therefore, no killing Hitler (which they tried early on). Previous stories in this universe are TSNOTD, which deals with Victorian times and golden age mysteries and is one hundred percent delightful, and Doomsday Book, about the Dark Ages and the bubonic plague and as depressing as the title suggests.
Blackout is 'set' in WWII, in the sense that the three historian protagonists travel there to observe different aspects of life in the era. One of the cleverest parts, to my eyes, was the fact that they aren't just randomly allowed to travel back to the past because it would be cool to see. They have to be history students researching the era for a project, in much the same way as I suppose current students write papers on 'evacuees in 1939' or VE Day or Dunkirk.
I'm not sure how I felt about these particular three. Their contemp names were used in place of their real ones most of the time, making it hard to keep track of who was who. Eileen, in particular, was annoyingly weak-willed. She kept letting people make her work on her half-day out, which if she was a real maid would have been a genuine sore point and was bad enough in this faked situation. Looking back it's obviously a ploy to allow certain events to happen as they did, but it put me off her character in a big way. Polly and Mike seemed to exist just as tour guides to the places they were visiting.
There was no real sense of danger. Worse, Polly's constant and repetitious rationalising of what was happening got super annoying and destroyed any empathy I might have felt for her plight. What I wanted to see more of was survival as opposed to waiting for rescue. I suppose that's what happens in All Clear, but for some reason NO ONE WILL SHIP THE HARDCOVER TO ME, and the paperback's not out till October. Great marketing strategy, actively preventing readers from accessing your books. Jeez.
Devilish, Maureen Johnson
This must be the third book of Johnson's I've read, and it will probably be the last. In comparison to the previous samples of her oeuvre it's actually quite impressive, but the ending isn't just lax, it's criminally lazy. What is it with YA authors? Even the ones who can actually write and plot and characterise, such as in this case, just reach approximately three hundred pages and say 'DONE NOW.' Loose ends, what loose ends? It's a real pity in this case because Johnson was clearly trying to deconstruct the vampire/supernatural entity romance genre and just, like, got bored of it or something. She also ruined Jane's character by making her rebellion secondary to a breakup and hastily pasting on a nice heterosexual relationship to bow out on. I mean, what was Jane not being sure she even liked boys, and finding Allie's ABSOLUTE WHACKED-OUT SHIT PERSONALITY TRAITS 'cute' (!!!), and being willing to die for her ABOUT if not real, romantic love?! Lame! Also, I know it was 2006, but 'my face book'? Seriously? Again I say: jeez.