Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Fiction Review: Blackout

This weekend, I finished my 7th #BigBookSummer book, Blackout by Connie Willis, a favorite author for both me and my husband. Willis has a loose series of time travel books, Oxford Time Travel, and if you've read my blog, you know I love any kind of time-twisting plots! In this series, we both enjoyed To Say Nothing of the Dog, a sort of time travel farce, and last summer for Big Book Summer 2020, we both read Doomsday Book and were blown away by it--it was a favorite for both of us. Blackout won both a Hugo award and a Nebula award, so it was just as good as her other novels.


Blackout takes place about four years after the events of Doomsday Book. All of this series are about a group of historians (mostly grad students) in near-future Oxford who use technology to travel to different time periods and places. Their role is to observe and learn more about history, not to change anything. In this novel, many historians are traveling back and forth to various places and times during World War II. Merope (who goes by Elaine in 1940) is in a rural area of England, helping with the evacuation of children from London to the country. Michael has a busy schedule ahead of him, studying unsung heroes of the war, and his first stop is to Dover in spring 1940 to witness the massive evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk across the channel by ordinary citizens with boats. Polly has already been to VE Day to see the victory celebrations, and now she is also heading back to 1940, right into the heart of London to witness how regular people coped with the constant terror of the Blitz. In each of these assignments, though—and more—things begin to go wrong. Their time travel technology seems to be glitching, with historians sent to slightly different times and places (“slippage”) than intended, and mistakes starting to occur. As some historians’ stays in the past extend longer than expected and they become enmeshed in 1940’s communities, how can they continue to avoid having an impact and changing the future?


As with all of Willis' books, Blackout was completely engrossing and compelling. Here, there is dual suspense created from the individual, very dangerous situations the historians are in while visiting the heart of WWII England and from the issues developing with the time travel system that may prevent them from returning home as planned. Willis is an amazing writer, creating in-depth characters I came to care about and using fascinating historical detail to bring the various settings to life. In fact, if you don’t normally read science fiction but enjoy historical fiction, you will probably love this novel as much as I did. She also weaves humor throughout her novels, even in the midst of the dangers of WWII. But I have one complaint: I was sorely disappointed that it ends in the middle of the action and says "To find out what happens next, read Part 2 in All Clear"! What? There's no indication on the book itself that it's only part 1, though a blog reader alerted me to this last week. Since it is part of a larger series, I would have appreciated knowing ahead of time that this is a two-part story, and Blackout is just part one. As frustrating as that was, it still didn’t dull my enthusiasm for this wholly unique, thrilling suspense/science fiction/historical novel. And, yes, of course, I will be reading book two, All Clear!


491 pages, Spectra (imprint of Random House)

Audible Studios


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The excerpt is from an action-packed part of the story where Michael unexpectedly gets pulled into the action in the English channel and worries he may have inadvertently changed history.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!


Or you can order Blackout from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. 7 Big Books?! You're doing so well on the challenge.

    1. That includes audios, Helen! Makes it easier to read lots of Big Books :)

  2. This sounds like such an exciting read, and I'm glad it lived up to your expectations of Willis's books! I can imagine it would be a challenge for these characters to avoid changing the future inadvertently. I'm sorry you have to start another book to find out what happens next! Thanks so much for the great review!

    1. All of her novels are just SO good!! I really need to get a start (finally) on Anna Karenina, to finish out my Big Book Summer, and it will likely take me all of August ... but then I'm reading All Clear!