Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: Distant Waves - Suzanne Weyn

Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn
Genre: YA, historical fiction, supernatural
Published on April 15, 2009
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 330
Read From: 6.6.13 - 6.8.13

Daughters of a famed clairvoyant, the five Taylor sisters begin the twentieth century desperately searching for a home. Their mother takes them to the small town of Spirit Vale, where she makes a living by talking to the dead. The future, however, is something even she cannot clearly see. 

The Taylor sisters are not destined to stay in Spirit Vale for long. Mimi's fate is mingled with that of rich society, and threatened by a secret surrounding her birth. Jane becomes involved in a feat of scientific intrigue that has the potential to alter the course of history - and the course of her greatest love. The twins, Emma and Amelie, appear ready to follow in their mother's footsteps. And the youngest, Blythe, will stop at nothing to make her dreams of wealth and fame come true. 
All of the sisters' destinies converge on board the Titanic. A transatlantic voyage that promises great wonders - including a surprise wedding - soon turns into a fight for survival. Not everyone will make it through. . . .for neither love nor sisterhood can escape the threat of death. 
Or can they?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes; the wedding dress floating eerily in the ocean is quite intriguing, and I was eager to see what the novel was about. Especially since it was a novel about the Titanic, and Suzanne Weyn wrote it. Unfortunately, it disappointed me more than a little bit.

Characters: As a protagonist, Jane Taylor was entirely forgettable. She had a personality buried somewhere within her, but it never made itself known. The only reason I liked her was because she was obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, and I can relate to that. Honestly, I think Emma - Jane's sister and Amelie's twin - would have made a better protagonist. With her telepathic link to Amelie, she would have been much more interesting. Thad, Jane's love interest, was a flaming socialist, so I couldn't like him. His appearance in the book heralded yet more rampages against capitalism and the "evil rich." Mimi didn't think through her actions and behaved rather selfishly most of the time, and while Blythe had an abundance of personality, she tended toward the frivolous side.

The Romance: Thad and Jane fall for each other hard and fast - emphasis on the fast. I wouldn't have minded too much, but because I was already predisposed to dislike Thad, I really didn't become emotionally invested in their adolescent crush. Thankfully, though, the romance doesn't take up much of the story.

Plot: Jane's mother is a medium; she talks to those departed, and when they move to Spirit Vale, she becomes even further immersed in it. While Jane's older sister Mimi is completely skeptical of their mother's abilities, and the twins Emma and Amelie show signs of having inherited the gift, Jane has always been unsure what to believe. Like her literary hero Sherlock Holmes, she tries to view it with a logical mind, but she can't deny the evidence of her own eyes - or believe that her own mother and two baby sisters would lie. Nikola Tesla offers a scientific explanation to what seems the impossible, and when Jane's family slowly disintegrates with her sister Mimi's disappearance, she clings desperately to fact. But then Emma and Amelie start to have horrible dreams of drowning - and the famous W. T. Stead predicts that he will die by ice. No one knows it yet, but everyone's fate is tied up with the launch of the biggest luxury ship ever built: the TitanicDistant Waves covers several years of Jane's life - from 1898 to 1914. Everything that happens in that time is important to the climax, but if you're like me, and expect this book to have more to do with the Titanic, you'll be disappointed. The Titanic doesn't play a role until the climax, and I have my own complaints in that quarter as well. To say that the plot of Distant Waves is boring would be inaccurate. With the spiritualism and the ever-looming promise of one of history's most tragic disasters, this novel reads surprisingly fast. But the story is also heavily weighed down with one-sided opinions, which made it a very prickly read for me.

Believability: It's true that Edison didn't deal completely honestly with Tesla, but it's also true that not a lot of what's reported to have happened has been proven. Tesla was a weird dude, and constantly paranoid of other inventors stealing his ideas (fears that were not wholly unfounded). So it's hard to say how much of what was said about Edison was truth, and how much was an angry and paranoid Tesla. Distant Waves, unfortunately, takes on the opinion that Edison was an evil, money-grubbing thug. It continues on this tack, denouncing rich people, the creation of wealth, and capitalism. It forgets entirely that it is thanks to rich people that Tesla was able to get any backing for his inventions. It instead demonizes them for withdrawing their investments when Tesla's inventions proved to be costing far more than they were worth. What's wrong with an investor withdrawing his money from a faulty venture? And what is wrong with Edison wanting to make money? Money is what stimulates an economy, keeps people from starving, helps businesses grow. The Author's Note does offer a very balanced and thorough investigation into what was fact and fiction in Distant Waves, but the novel itself, unfortunately, doesn't take on this balanced view, and instead swings wholly in one direction.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. Jane's narration is unemotional, and it's because I was unable to sense her personality in the words. I couldn't hear her voice and that's a critical element of a successful first person narration. At times, the dialogue didn't feel completely accurate to the time period, either.

Content: None.

Conclusion: The sinking of the Titanic is a big deal, and when a novel features it, we Readers expect it to be horrifying, devastating, and, well, a big deal! It wasn't. The Titanic hits an ice berg, before you know it people are being loaded into the lifeboats, and then Jane wanders down to the cargo hold with Tesla to try out one of his new inventions that will supposedly remedy the problem. What ensues is downright convoluted: something happens (what exactly, we don't find out until the very, very end of the story) and then suddenly Jane is in the freezing water, and the Titanic has already sunk. We Readers are left feeling completely disorientated. And perhaps the mystery of what exactly happened in the cargo hold would be fine - if Jane expressed puzzlement as well. But no; she instead banishes it to the back of her mind for two whole years. It made for a rushed climax and completely obliterated the horror of one of history's most iconic moments. I really was disappointed with Distant Waves. I've read several of Suzanne Weyn's books before and they've all been very good. So what happened with this one?

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, any age, fans of one-sided historical fiction.


  1. An interesting thought that the novel might have been more interesting from Emma's point of view! I thought it might have been more interesting if told from Mimi's viewpoint so that we really could have seen her grapple with the dilemma presented by her Haitian heritage. I thought a ton of themes were touched upon (and would have been interesting to carry through), but were just dropped unceremoniously.

    I enjoyed reading your review, and I've linked to yours at my blog.

    1. Mimi as protagonist would have been interesting, too; and maybe we would have seen more of the "Titanic."

      Thank you; I enjoyed reading your review, too. I was especially interested to read about why steerage wasn't permitted to get in the lifeboats; I had never heard that before and I would like to look into it more. If you have any good source recommendations, please share. :)


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