Goodreads: Luck of the Titanic
Publication Date: 2021
From the critically acclaimed author of The Downstairs Girl comes the richly imagined story of Valora and Jamie Luck, twin British – Chinese acrobats traveling aboard the Titanic on its ill fated maiden voyage.
Southampton, 1912: Seventeen-year-old British-Chinese Valora Luck has quit her job and smuggled herself aboard the Titanic with two goals in mind: to reunite with her twin brother Jamie–her only family now that both their parents are dead–and to convince a part-owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus to take the twins on as acrobats. Quick-thinking Val talks her way into opulent firstclass accommodations and finds Jamie with a group of fellow Chinese laborers in third class. But in the rigidly stratified world of the luxury liner, Val’s ruse can only last so long, and after two long years apart, it’s unclear if Jamie even wants the life Val proposes. Then, one moonless night in the North Atlantic, the unthinkable happens–the supposedly unsinkable ship is dealt a fatal blow–and Val and her companions suddenly find themselves in a race to survive.
Stacey Lee, master of historical fiction, brings a fresh perspective to an infamous tragedy, loosely inspired by the recently uncovered account of six Titanic survivors of Chinese descent.
Inspired by the lost stories of eight Chinese passengers on the Titanic, Luck of the Titanic brings a new perspective to a well-known tale. The book centers around teenaged Valora Luck, a girl in search of a new life in the United States after her employer dies. Her plan is simple: pretend her employer is still alive, board the Titanic as a servant, find her twin brother Jamie (who is working at sea), convince him to try out for the circus with her, and then go to America. Unfortunately, however, Valora has never heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which 30 years earlier had barred the immigration of Chinese workers to the U.S. and prevented Chinese individuals from obtaining citizenship. Still, undeterred, Valora hatches a daring plan to impersonate her employer and also try out for a part-owner of the Ringling Brothers. The premise is fun and will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction focused on the relationships between the classes.
Although Luck of the Titanic is, of course, another Titanic book, the most interesting parts of the story arguably occur before the ship hits the iceberg. Valora may not be very good about coming up with solid plans, but she is determined and daring. It is entertaining to watch her impersonate her former employer, hiding behind a veil and pretending to be a grieving widow. She, of course, make allies in order to keep up the charade, and ends up wearing clothes to advertise an up-and-coming designer also on board–a plot point that helps to highlight the glamour of being a first-class passenger on board a luxury ship. Readers will revel in the details of all the elegance the lucky few were able to enjoy.
However, because Valora also must visit her brother and his friends in third class, Valora gives readers a unique window into the relationship between the classes on board. When she appears in first class behind her veil as an assumed white woman, Valora is treated with respect and gets to experience fine dining and other luxuries. When she disguises herself as a Chinese man, however, she experiences both classism and racism. Things as simple as requesting that the waiter bring bread to the table become a struggle. Her struggles highlight the challenges that the third class passengers faced to be treated with dignity, even on board a ship they had paid to be on. Readers no doubt will think of plenty of parallels in the modern-day world, where some still struggle to be treated equally.
Valora’s wild plans both to keep up her disguises and to try to convince her reluctant brother to join the circus with her are what really keep the plot engaging (even if Valora herself can come across at time as a bit self-centered). Once the ship actually hits the iceberg and the story becomes one of survival, the book begins to struggle a bit. Titanic stories have been done many times, and it can be difficult to make the story feel new, even with all its tragedy. Frankly, I kind of stopped caring about the plot once the characters just started running in circles around the ship. Even the ending failed to move me, though I recognize that it is probably supposed to part of some great character revelation for Valora.
Ultimately, however, Luck of the Titanic is an engaging novel sure to delight readers looking for a historical fiction that focuses on the little-known tales of the past. The interesting premise, combined with Valora’s amusing disguises and subterfuges, will keep readers turning pages, even if they know how it all must end.