The Titanic Sisters. Patricia Falvey. 2021 (January) 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: The letter from America changed all our lives. The postman presented it to me with great ritual, as if it were a fine jewel. In his memory, he said, no one in my small village of Kilcross, in County Donegal, at the northwest tip of Ireland, had ever received such a thing, nor had he himself ever delivered anything so rare. After he pedaled away from our cottage whistling, I stood at the door holding the envelope, with its bright ribbon of stamps, in my hands like a colorful bird.
My thoughts (part 1): I know it is out of character to begin a review with my thoughts, BUT, I think it's unavoidable in this case.
The issues I had/have with The Titanic Sisters are not exclusive to The Titanic Sisters. This isn't the first nor will it be the last historical romance featuring some of my biggest pet peeves.
Characters acting with little to no motivation--just one note characters that are conveniently one note to get the story from point A to point B. If you are going to go down the THIS STORY MUST HAVE VILLAIN(S) TO GET IN THE WAY OF TRUE LOVE'S PATH do readers a favor and at least make them complex enough to be believable humans. Give them a believable, understandable motivation rooted in human nature and not convenience to where you want your plot to go.
Historical romance writers would have us readers believe that 98% of all courtships include kidnapping or attempted kidnapping. Why? I don't know. (The other 2% would not include kidnapping but would include a fire.) Unless the villain doing the kidnapping has been well-developed and the whole story from start to finish has been building up to this one climax--and it is a natural, organic part of the story--then why throw in a situation of "danger" that everyone can spot from space essentially that it exists just to manipulate the couple into declaring their feelings for one another.
That is all.
Premise/plot: The Titanic Sisters star Delia and Nora Sweeney. These two sisters--who do NOT get along not even slightly--set sail on the Titanic in April 1912. These Irish passengers are third class, I believe, but both happen to snag seats on two different lifeboats. Delia sees Nora fall from the lifeboat into the sea, and she's unable to find her aboard the rescue ship, she fears that Nora's death is almost certainly a fact. Delia decides that since Nora won't be going to be a governess at the O'Hanlon house, she might as well go in her place and use her sister's name. Though this is more impulse than a well thought out scheme.
Nora, meanwhile, who did not die, has amnesia until she doesn't.... Happy endings seem unlikely for both sisters... it seems there's an evil force determined to keep throwing obstacle after obstacle after obstacle in their paths keeping the two from knowing fairy tale bliss.
My thoughts (part 2): Readers expecting the novel to focus on the Titanic experience will likely be disappointed. I found it was a rush to get to the Titanic, a rush to get to the sinking, a rush to get to New York. (It was like when Simmers play The Sims on triple speed and are only interrupted by pop-up prompts.) I could easily forgive a story for not being all about the setting or giving me a feel or experience...if the characters felt truly human and complex. So my number one issue with the book has nothing to do with setting. (Though I do wonder about her descriptions of Texas as well.)
Nora was unlikeable. There I said it. Though I would--if I had to choose--pick the new Nora over the old. That bump on the head and time spent unconcious in the ocean did her character a favor? Or maybe it was the weeks not knowing who she was and what her own personality was that improved it? But since half the book was spent with Nora narrating--it wasn't a joy to read.
Delia, our other narrator, I am much more neutral about. Though I didn't necessarily find her believable. At least we always understand Delia's motivations--if Delia acts readers know why. Even if readers don't think she's making the best decisions. This isn't the case with any other character in the book. This is understandable when Nora has amnesia and she truly doesn't know why she's making some decisions over others and is all out of sorts. (Though I'm not sure this excuses all of Nora's poor decisions. For the record I am NOT saying that it was her fault what happened to her at the ball. I am NOT saying that--would never, ever, ever say that. But when she saw HIM behave that way towards a CAT...let's just say that she should have had common sense to see he wasn't boyfriend material.)
The romance between Delia and Aidan O'Hanlan...I didn't find Aidan a well-developed character...but I could see why he was written in a way to make Delia go all weak in the knees and swoon. I thought Lily, his daughter, was much better developed. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and say it, Lily was the best character in the whole book.
I guess I am angriest at the inclusion of Mrs. Shaw. Mrs. Shaw exists solely to give Nora a safe place to recuperate and regain her memories. The author obviously didn't want Nora staying there and being safe and loved and isolated from the rest of the plot, so she killed off Mrs. Shaw. Why not have Mrs. Shaw tell Nora that she would always be welcome, but she should go seek out her sister and/or go back to her very worried parents? I just found it awfully convenient that Mrs. Shaw died ON HER WAY TO THE BANK when she was going to give Nora a large sum of money to live on IN CASE SHE DIED. Since her ONE-NOTE-EVIL nephew was due to inherit the property and would have control over what happened to her estate/property/money I almost expected her death to be foul play. But the author didn't go there--missed opportunity??? Maybe. (This was the one-note-evil man who attacked Nora at a ball and attempted to rape her. The same man with gambling problems.)
I was really enjoying the character of Mrs. Shaw she was a great influence on Nora. It seemed the more I as a reader liked a character...the more likely it was that the author would turn on the character to remove him/her from the center of the plot.
Dom was another character. He was also on board the Titanic, also third class or steerage, also miraculously survived and made it to New York. He exists solely to be a SYMPATHETIC, COMFORT and FRIEND to both Nora and Delia. But whenever the plot looks like it could veer towards Dom actually actually being more than a minor-minor-side character, the author intervenes to remind readers that nope, he's just an extra. There were moments when I was shipping Dom and Delia together....and moments when I was shipping Dom and Nora together.
One character that irritated me a bit more than she probably should have is Mayflower. She is a friend to Delia in Texas. Her husband works closely with Aidan. She knows KNOWS that Aidan is dead-set against Lily and Delia going to Shotgun City because it is too dangerous and it isn't safe for women or children. The men are too wild and dangerous. Yet when she hears that Aidan is going to be out of town, she drives Lily and Delia to Shotgun City--as a surprise--and then SURPRISE, SUPRISE they get caught there and Lily has gone MISSING. Because both women decided it would be PERFECTLY SAFE for a young girl to GO WONDERING ON HER OWN. I think into a restaurant? Mayflower actually tries to talk Delia into letting the girl be independent???? Anyway, Delia ends up FIRED because of this episode. And Mayflower's intent supposedly was what exactly???? Here she has been trying to play matchmaker and manipulate them to be together????? And we're supposed to intelligently believe that May's intent was to bring these two together? By getting him angry enough to fire her???? It just defies logic why would Mayflower--or any person ever--ever think this was a good thing????
Another character that infuriated me was James Sullivan. This angry-beyond-all-reason-obviously-one-note-villain is not developed enough to have a motivation for being BADDY BAD VILLIAN EXTRAORDINAIRE. So supposedly he's so angry that his daughter, Mary, died that he's determined to spend his whole life making his son-in-law's life hell on earth????? Explain to me how Texas is to blame for her catching a fever and dying? As if you couldn't catch a fever--or die of a fever, a disease, something--anywhere else on planet Earth? As if New York was the healthiest place and the only cause for death was old age??? And what BADDY BAD EXTRAORDINAIRE would be complete without telling readers his whole plot beforehand???
The book was predictable in places--but I never fault romances for being predictable.
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