Blackout and All Clear contain one story, split into two volumes. There isn’t any real arc to each volume, there isn’t an end of one story with a cliffhanger leading into another. At a total of 1150 or so pages, it was evidently too long to be contained in one book.
Blackout and All Clear should have been two of my favorite books this year. I’m pretty sure that if I sat down to read them both now, they’d easily make that list.
Unfortunately, I read Blackout last April, not too long after it came out. Connie Willis is one of my favorite authors. I hadn’t heard much about it, and I didn’t bother tracking down any information about it, but just took it as a given that I’d read it.
Blackout is a time travel book, set in the same universe as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog (one of my favorite books!). The time traveling researchers are trying to learn more about World War II. All does not go smoothly, and they find themselves unable to return to their own time. They must balance worries about why this has happened with those of surviving this time in history, all while trying to accomplish their original mission and find a way to return home.
I didn’t realize until about 20 pages before the end of Blackout that there was no possible way to wrap up the book before reaching the back cover. I had no idea there was another book planned in the universe, let alone that this story was continued in it.
If I could have acquired All Clear immediately, everything would have been fine, but I had a six month wait for its publication. My memory for names and other details isn’t all that great to start with, and in this case I had time travel and characters using multiple aliases to contend with. My picking audio for All Clear after having read Blackout on paper probably didn’t help either.
Unfortunately, I spent the first half of All Clear trying to remember that Mary was another name for which other character? why was one character so concerned about a deadline?, and other such details that really, really mattered to following the plot.
I did figure it all out, and settled in to the second part of the book, but by then I felt that my enjoyment of the first half of All Clear had been stolen from me. That probably isn’t fair, but it is how I felt.
Do I recommend the books? Absolutely. Just make sure you are prepared to read the whole thing, both volumes. The characters are great, I love the view into the day to day life of WWII in England, the reflections on time travel (the usual concerns about altering the space time continuum) are particularly well done. There’s drama, there’s daily life, there’s heroic behavior there’s bits of humor.
Do I think the book needed to be that long? I’m not sure, since I lost track of many of the plot intricacies that the length allowed. I do know that I had been planning to recommend it to my book club. We’ve actually read other books that were in the vicinity of 1000 pages, but we’ve been having enough trouble getting people to finish normal length books.
I’d really like to reread both, and maybe I’ll find the time at some point. Right now, I just have too many other books to read.