Fateful by Claudia Gray
You’d have to be hiding under a rock to miss the fact that we’re coming up to the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Over the years, much has been written about the doomed ship, both factual and fictional. I suppose it’s inevitable that someone would take the current trend towards the supernatural and start applying it to “the longest night”. Fateful is a novel that manages to be both derivative and powerful at the same time.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Eighteen-year-old maid Tess Davies is determined to escape the wealthy, troubled family she serves. It’s 1912, and Tess has been trapped in the employ of the Lisles for years, amid painful memories and twisted secrets. But now the Lisle family is headed to America, with Tess in tow. Once the ship they’re sailing on—the RMS Titanic—reaches its destination, Tess plans to strike out and create a new life for herself.
Her single-minded focus shatters when she meets Alec, a handsome first-class passenger who captivates her instantly. But Alec has secrets of his own. He’s in a hurry to leave Europe, and whispers aboard the ship say it’s because of the tragic end of his last affair with the French actress who died so gruesomely and so mysteriously. . .
Soon Tess will learn just how dark Alec’s past truly is. The danger they face is no ordinary enemy: werewolves exist and are stalking him—and now her, too. Her growing love for Alec will put Tess in mortal peril, and fate will do the same before their journey on the Titanic is over.”
So, let’s tackle the obvious: this novel has quite a few similarities to James Cameron’s movie Titanic. You have two main characters, each from different societal classes. You have the meek woman who’s about to be married off for money. You have people planning to start a new life in America. You even have a party down in third class that’s much more fun than anything in first class. In many ways, it follows the fictional plot of the movie fairly closely.
The one thing that it does better than the movie is somewhat a function of the fact that Tess works for a rich family. While the movie character Jack was a third class passenger and obviously poor, Tess is a part of the servant class that was so prevalent at the time. Where the book succeeds more is in the portrayal of Tess’s life as a third class person in a first class world. Her treatment at the hands of her employers runs the gamut from outright abuse to the tentative friendship of the meek daughter. And although she works in first class, she bunks in third class and (for the most part) associates more with people on that level. Of course, one of the eternal tragedies of Titanic was how many third class passengers never even had the opportunity to save themselves, due to locked gates or preference given to others. Tess’s inclusion in this doomed group lends it more poignancy, and yet her association with the Lisles gives her the chance to believably escape the sinking.
Even though I am very interested in the historical Titanic and appreciate a story set there, I’m not sure this story needed to be set on the ship. While the sinking certainly adds a level of tension (and anybody who knows the timeline of the voyage will be counting down to the impact), I’m not convinced that it needed to be there for the story to function. Many of the circumstances that lead to where the main characters are at the novel’s end don’t need a sinking boat to propel them. I suppose that, for me, a driving reason for setting the book on Titanic would have made the story much stronger.
For all that, this is an enjoyable novel. The characters are well thought out and emerge with their own voices and personalities. The historical figures are almost entirely in the background, with only one encounter with the main characters. I think this was a wise decision, because there are so many powerful stories that came out of the sinking that bringing them to the forefront, however briefly, would have overshadowed the story that Gray was trying to tell.
In the end, I found myself really caring what happened to these people, especially knowing that a disaster loomed in their near future. While not a novel that breaks any new ground, Fateful is a decent read and will certainly bring young adults some knowledge of the sinking. Now that all of the survivors have passed away, the event has truly passed into history, and this is one example of man’s hubris that shouldn’t be forgotten.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on April 9, 2012.