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Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

BOTTOM LINE: A fun novel that makes me wish we still traveled on ocean liners

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 9 January 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

The ship has been like a world within itself, a vast floating city outside of normal rules. But the longer the journey continues, the more confined it is starting to feel, deck upon deck, passenger upon passenger, all of them churning around each other without anywhere to go…

1939: Europe is on the brink of war when young Lily Shepherd boards an ocean liner in Essex, bound for Australia. She is ready to start anew, leaving behind the shadows in her past. The passage proves magical, complete with live music, cocktails, and fancy dress balls. With stops at exotic locations along the way—Naples, Cairo, Ceylon—the voyage shows Lily places she’d only ever dreamed of and enables her to make friends with those above her social station, people who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.

But Lily soon realizes that she’s not the only one hiding secrets. Her newfound friends—the toxic wealthy couple Eliza and Max; Cambridge graduate Edward; Jewish refugee Maria; fascist George—are also running away from their pasts. As the glamour of the voyage fades, the stage is set for something sinister to occur. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and Lily’s life will be changed irrevocably.”

My Thoughts: There have been many a novel that looks at the world as it was in 1939 and on the brink of its second world war. There have been many a novel set at sea. I do not imagine there have been many novels that have both as their setting. Dangerous Crossing is one such novel as it explores one young woman’s travel across the world to a new beginning on board a luxury ocean liner right after Germany invaded Poland. It is, in many ways, a coming-of-age story not just for the main character but for the rest of the passengers as well.

Lily is a wonderful main character. She is young and inexperienced, and her excitement for this adventure to her new life is infectious. Yet, she is not completely naive and therefore not an easy target for someone looking to take advantage of her. She has a sharp mind and is quite observant in one so young. She is not perfect, but her mistakes are almost endearing. Her vibrancy and eagerness to explore the world opened to her is so infectious that it is easy to ignore any annoyances she might cause you.

For as fun as it is to see the story unfold through Lily’s point of view, the true star of the story is the ocean liner and entire voyage. Ms. Rhys’ descriptions are stunning and make you feel like you are there alongside Lily. Everything from the odor of the cabins after a long night to the sun on the horizon is crystal clear and compelling. Even those scenes that take place off-ship are evocative and vibrant. You find yourself so caught up in the descriptions that the story fades in importance.

The other element of the novel Ms. Rhys does well is establish the unrest caused by not knowing where the world stands as it pertains to Germany’s aggression. There is also the sense of timelessness that results from not having access to the latest news. It is such a unique perspective. The ship is literally in its own bubble out of time for as long as it remains away from its destination. It becomes something of an experiment then to watch the passengers interact without thought of the outside world and with no immediate worries to guide them. The not knowing is particularly profound given today’s instantaneous news access and rapidity of reporting, and the ease with which they accept the lack of news fills you with longing to be back in those blissful years of ignorance because the news took time to reach you.

There is something about the open ocean that calls to mind romance and adventure. Dangerous Crossing captures that feel with its impressive attention to detail and spirit of possibility that exists in each of the characters. Lily makes for a great heroine, full of adventure as only the young are, intelligent enough to discern harsh truths, and more than capable of speaking her mind. The big mystery of the voyage proves to be minor when compared to Lily’s growth, and that is okay. Ms. Rhys does such a great job establishing the characters and their interactions that the rest is not even necessary. I remain pleasantly surprised and impressed by this character-driven story on the sea and hope others take the opportunity to see the world through Lily’s eyes.

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