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All Clear #2

All Clear

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In Blackout , award-winning author Connie Willis returned to the time-traveling future of 2060—the setting for several of her most celebrated works—and sent three Oxford historians to World War II Michael Davies, intent on observing heroism during the Miracle of Dunkirk; Merope Ward, studying children evacuated from London; and Polly Churchill, posing as a shopgirl in the middle of the Blitz. But when the three become unexpectedly trapped in 1940, they struggle not only to find their way home but to survive as Hitler’s bombers attempt to pummel London into submission.

Now the situation has grown even more dire. Small discrepancies in the historical record seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past, changing the outcome of the war. The belief that the past can be observed but never altered has always been a core belief of time-travel theory—but suddenly it seems that the theory is horribly, tragically wrong.

Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, and seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who nurses a powerful crush on Polly, are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle of their own—to find three missing needles in the haystack of history.

Told with compassion, humor, and an artistry both uplifting and devastating, All Clear is more than just the triumphant culmination of the adventure that began with Blackout. It’s Connie Willis’s most humane, heartfelt novel yet—a clear-eyed celebration of faith, love, and the quiet, ordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice too often overlooked by history.

656 pages, Hardcover

First published October 19, 2010

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About the author

Connie Willis

257 books4,236 followers
Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis is an American science fiction writer. She is one of the most honored science fiction writers of the 1980s and 1990s.

She has won, among other awards, ten Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards. Willis most recently won a Hugo Award for All Seated on the Ground (August 2008). She was the 2011 recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).

She lives in Greeley, Colorado with her husband Courtney Willis, a professor of physics at the University of Northern Colorado. She also has one daughter, Cordelia.

Willis is known for her accessible prose and likable characters. She has written several pieces involving time travel by history students and faculty of the future University of Oxford. These pieces include her Hugo Award-winning novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog and the short story "Fire Watch," found in the short story collection of the same name.

Willis tends to the comedy of manners style of writing. Her protagonists are typically beset by single-minded people pursuing illogical agendas, such as attempting to organize a bell-ringing session in the middle of a deadly epidemic (Doomsday Book), or frustrating efforts to analyze near-death experiences by putting words in the mouths of interviewees (Passage).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,422 reviews
Profile Image for Amy Sturgis.
Author 39 books383 followers
March 18, 2015
Let me begin by saying that The Doomsday Book is one of my all-time favorite novels (definitely "top ten," quite possibly "top five"), and I'm also tremendously fond of Connie Willis's Lincoln's Dreams, as well. When I knew she had a new book - well, duology, though the two books are really one chopped in half - set in the same time-travel universe as The Doomsday Book, I was beside myself with anticipation. (I blame her publishers for the decision to splice the book and then wait months between the first and second volume.)

Now I'm simply incredibly frustrated. I think there was a good novel somewhere in there, but it was lost beneath everything else. First and foremost, Willis needed a better editor; the sheer amount of constant repetition, useless detail, and point-of-view hopping between one line and the next is inexcusable. I got the feeling Willis had invested so much effort researching every angle of the period (the Blitz in World War II England) that she became determined to fit it all in, whether the story needed it or not.

Second, the way she handled the issue of time travel was troubling. Anyone trained to be a historian goes through multiple courses on the theory of history, philosophy of history, etc. (I'm a historian, and I'm speaking from personal experience.) For those in the future training to be time-traveling historians, I can only imagine how thoroughly they would study the theories behind time travel, as well. Yet several of these students seem utterly clueless about the very premises of what they're doing. (Allow me to paraphrase. "Historian X went to the Blitz Z years ago when he was in our department. So that was in the past, even though we're in the Blitz now. No, wait? He'd be here now, too, even though we left at different times? Golly gee, I never thought of that! Time travel's funny!" Or, for another example: "Maybe the retrieval team hasn't found out yet where we went. As soon as they do, they'll come and get us. Wait, you mean that, if they'd found our location, they would already have gone back before Q happened to get us? Time travel's so crazy! Who'd've thought it?") Augh!

Also, for a two-volume book, I would have expected more character development. The two female protagonists were so flat they were easy to confuse until the very last section. The best characters - Mr. Dunworthy, Sir Godfrey - begged for more attention. The fascinating ideas the story raised about the net, the drops, and the meaning (failure?) of time travel only received a random few infodumps, and I would've loved to know more, especially since this was the supposed crux of the two volumes.

I realize that I came into this with very high expectations, but I think Willis could have delivered a very good novel if she hadn't been impatient with the science fiction and self-indulgent with all of her research. The World War II material was fascinating, but less in service to an overall story than by itself, in isolated chunks. If you're looking for an excellent work that blends science fiction and historical fiction, read The Doomsday Book. Then, when you're done, bypass this and read The Doomsday Book again.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,898 reviews
March 7, 2011
Time-traveling historians fight their way home. This book was ridiculous. I feel bad writing that, because 1. so many people liked it so much, and I'm sad to think I didn't understand how to appreciate it, and 2. it's a celebrated author's book about a WAR. But the only way I remotely got through it was by treating it as a comic novel and mentally tallying up all the ridiculousness, including but not limited to: 1. every time a character's mission was completely stymied by one single, non-malicious individual, and 1a. every time that individual was a child, 2. every time a character whose career and passion involved time travel displayed total ignorance about rudimentary elements of time travel, 3. every time a character repeated (verbatim) trivial information, internally and externally, more than a dozen times in a chapter, and 4. every time anything interesting as a point of tension was written off as a-ok, because if it wasn't a-ok, well then, it never would have happened! By and large, whenever it wasn't boring, it was annoying.
Profile Image for Lori.
678 reviews74 followers
December 14, 2010
It's here It's here!

The only reason why this is not a 5 is because the middle section of Blackout and All Clear (and I count them as one book, because really they are) annoyed me a bit with the obsession over whether they changed the outcome of the war and where the retrieval team, over and over. I understand why Willis did this (complete anxiety!) but it was too much. Probably because I have gone through times in my life when I too get completely stuck in the broken record of a mind loop, and they were not good times at all.

Other than that, I am completely moved by this book, loved it. And feel like I lived through WWII blitz and bombing in England too. Once again, Connie Willis manages to write both a brilliant historical fiction and science fiction book wrapped in one. She's so expansive she can't be categorized into one genre.
Profile Image for Taueret.
171 reviews10 followers
March 21, 2011
I hate this book so much. I hate it so much that it hurts. I hate that I spent an audible credit on it. I hate that it's about subjects I LOVE- WWII? Bletchley Park? And it still sucks. It's not badly written- it's just a terrible story, and the lead characters are whiny, dumb, ignorant, and keep switching voices. (that last isn't the author's fault). I HATE that I know more WWII trivia than these "historians" do. That part is the worst. That and the idea that three professional time travellers, stuck in some kind of boring time travelling paradox shit thing, would NOT PUT THEIR HEADS TOGETHER- but spend what seems like fifty years KEEPING THINGS FROM ONE ANOTHER. Oh my brain, my poor poor brain. To spare one another worrying. They suspect that the very fabric of time and space has been damaged (or something) but they are worried about WORRYING ONE ANOTHER.

And what the HELL is that CRAP with the whole Importance of Being Ernest thing? WHAT IS THAT? Oh your God. The only excuse for that is if they're code names or something to confuse "Jerrah"- but No I think these idiots are really called Ernest and Prism and Lady Bracknell. I CANNOT TAKE ANY MORE.

And really, mentioning Shakespeare all the time doesn't make all the missed connections and mistaken identities allusive. It's just crap. Same goes for Agatha Christie.

Also, I guessed the BIG SURPRISE. It hasn't been revealed yet but I already guessed it. Unless I'm wrong. So I guess I'll keep listening til the bitter end. And rant some more at that time.

Well I think I'm within a few minutes of the end of this instalment. Aren't there meant to be 3? Gah. In the last say 2 hours (I'm listening to audio or I never would have got this far) the plot has finally tightened up to the point where there is not an hour of unnecessarily literal descriptions of confused frustrated people running around in circles, and keeping things from one another. The actual STORY of Blackout and All Clear is ok- but you could cut great chunks out in between actual happenings, and not lose a thing (except me driving down the freeway yelling "SHUT UP!!" a lot).

Oh, but I apologise about my rude Importance of Being Ernest outburst. It WAS code. Whatever, it still sucked.

I was also wrong about the surprise, but mine was better. I'll update again when I finally have really finished.
Profile Image for Ed.
118 reviews32 followers
November 28, 2010
I found this book to be both amazing and frustrating. I don't recall ever having such mixed feelings about a book. When it's rolling it's a rare and rewarding page turner and when it bogs down it feels like a week of reading before the story moves on. There are way too many pages where we go inside a character's head and we listen to that character wonder. She'll wonder if she did something wrong and lost the war for England, she'll wonder where another character is and what they are doing and if he or she is doing something to lose the war. She may wonder if she'll get out of London before she arrives, she'll wonder about this, about that, about whether or not she'll get to work on time, if something she did at work has changed history. She'll wonder some more about her friends in the future, if they are looking for her or why she is even stuck in the blitz. Then she'll wonder some more. There are points in this novel where there is way too much telling and not showing. It could be shorter.

That being said, it's still a beautiful book with amazing characters that are full of life and we are truly with them as they scrape through life during (mostly) the London Blitz. It's an ode to the bravery of the average person and the England she gives you is a fully realized world. It's worth it alone for the two Hodbin children that run havoc throughout both novels.
Profile Image for Andrea.
Author 25 books784 followers
January 16, 2012
All Clear (and Blackout) are an excellent way to learn more about World War II/The Blitz in England. It is, however, an extremely frustrating book on many other levels.

Of particular concern to me was the tendency for the historians to explain details that the other historians should hand in their degrees for not knowing. It was one thing in Book 1 to have to explain that Agatha Christie was a novelist. It's another thing altogether to revolve a major plot point on the fact that one of the historians is not able to remember the name of the 'airfield' another historian has been assigned to, and for chapters to be taken up in the quest for the airfield.

The name of the place?

Bletchley Park.

The historians then explain to that historian that Bletchley Park is not, in fact, an airfield, but instead, the location of the most important and critical achievement in the entire war. To a historian.

That incident killed the book for me, but the repetitive nature of the plot made a lot of this a slogging read. The characters are always stuck in a loop of trying to get somewhere and having a series of minor obstacles get in the way, and while this is in itself a plot point, it's not a fun one to read. All the people they meet seem like vivid and living characters, but the historians are forever brushing them off or trying to avoid them or dealing with them as another obstacle getting in the way of whatever minor task they're involved in.

I did enjoy many aspects, and enjoyed the last quarter of the volume - but it took way too long to get there.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,802 reviews1,234 followers
January 4, 2011
This is a wonderful and amazing book. It really is the second half of a book. On the same day, I went from finishing Blackout and started reading this book, and it was like going from one chapter to another, not like going from one book to another.

Thank you to Goodreads friend and fellow group member Sarah Pi who didn’t let me see answers to my questions and therefore helped me avoid unwanted spoilers.

I am very proud that less than 1/3 the way through this book, I figured something out, probably because of all of the mysteries I’ve read, and I’m often able to prematurely guess their outcomes too. Even though I figured out that important plot point, the book managed to stay suspenseful for me all the way until the last page. The farther I got into the book, the harder it became to take any breaks from reading it; I was enthralled.

I love Blackout and this book so much didn’t even mind that they’re books 4 and 5 in the Oxford time travel series; normally, I’d want to read the books in exact order, but once I started these books I couldn’t put them aside to read the earlier books first.

This is a brilliant historical fiction and time travel/speculative fiction book, with a very complex time travel story. It’s ingenious and a great deal of fun. It’s funny, tragic, romantic, heartwarming, and completely engrossing. I cared a great deal about many characters. I got in lots of chuckles and smiles, and tears also.

I adored how Agatha Christie makes appearances. (I’ve loved her mystery books for decades.) Very cool! Also appropriate were all the mentions of Ernest Shackleton and his expedition to the South Pole.

This is a beautifully crafted book. I enjoyed how the dialogue between characters was in quotes and characters’ internal dialogue/thoughts were in italics. The quotes that are at the beginning of each chapter are fabulous; both their literary and historical origins and how they relate to what is going on in the book’s story are perfect.

I knew a fair amount about the Blitz, have read about it and listened to people who were there talk about it, I think that I learned more from this book/books than any other source to date. I think I fully appreciated for the first time what people in that time and place experienced.

I can recommend this book to any reader who likes reading historical fiction and/or time travel books and/or any type of speculative fiction. It’s imperative to read Blackout and then this book, preferably one right after the other as I was fortunate to do.

The very best thing about this book, and why I think it has appeal for all readers whatever their favorite genres are, is how it shows the importance in life of loving and caring about and caring for others. I was practically bawling by the end, but this theme runs throughout the entire story.
Profile Image for ❀⊱RoryReads⊰❀.
680 reviews144 followers
July 21, 2019
This was unnecessarily long. It should have been combined with the first part, Blackout and edited into one book.

The characterizations are very good, but what is done with those characters is often pointless. All they do is worry and speculate; running around not asking vital questions and refusing to tell one another the truth. So much crazy squirrel behavior from what are supposed to be highly trained Oxford graduates, it's ridiculous.

Because Willis can write and I enjoyed Sir Godfrey and the Hodbins, I'm giving it three stars.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 110 books754 followers
December 8, 2010
I have a day job, a night job, and a band. I am working on my fourth album and on a novel and on several short stories. I have a dog and a pony to take care of and I'm trying to teach myself to run by February so that I can join my friends' relay triathlon team. So when I say that I spent four hours curled up in a blanket tonight with my phone set to do-not-disturb because I could not possibly bear to put this book down before I had finished the last three hundred pages, know that I haven't done that in years.

Blackout-All Clear (the two books truly are one, and I hope nobody does themselves the disservice of reading All Clear without Blackout) is the work of a lifetime. It surpasses The Doomsday Book and Passage and To Say Nothing of the Dog and all of Connie Willis's wonderful short stories. It's a note-perfect historical novel, a great time travel book, and an absolutely gorgeous treatise on heroism. I retract my criticisms of the wheel-spinning in Blackout; everything now seems necessary. I'd love to someday see the author's notes and corkboard and to see how she pieced together this massive work. It's truly a masterpiece and my new favorite book of the year.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,954 reviews1,292 followers
July 31, 2011
Last time, on Ben's reviews:

… there's a very palpable, somewhat ironic fear here, because in a way these three are more frightened of the Blitz than the stalwart contemporaries (or "contemps" as the historians call them).… So for a moment, there's a justifiable and interesting suspense. Unfortunately, Willis attempts to sustain that suspense entirely too long…

all the characters in this book are ninnies … They complain about the retrieval team not showing up and they lie to each other and keep secrets to avoid "worrying" each other unnecessarily.

Slippage is a safety mechanism, then, of the universe, and time travellers shouldn't be able to alter the past. Willis leaves us wondering if this interpretation is true, or if there is something else happening, and I admit I want to know the answer.

… time travel creates a headache for those of us mired in the swamps of linear time, and inevitably, time travel stories demonstrate why it's a good thing we don't have to comprehend paradoxes in real life.

And now, the conclusion to Ben's reviews of Blackout/All Clear:

Time travel to the past inevitably raises the spectre of altering the past, and specifically whether one can change the outcome of events that have "already" happened. This generally depends on the rules the author sets up. Connie Willis doesn't actually explain the rules to us, only hints at them, and determining what "type" of universe our Oxford historians inhabit becomes central to the plot of All Clear. When Mr. Dunworthy joins Polly and Eileen in the past, he has bad news: he fears he has doomed them all, because he altered events on his first trip to the Blitz, when he was only seventeen years old, and now the continuum is trying to repair itself. By killing all the time travellers, and everyone with whom they have had contact. Fortunately for all of our historians, it turns out Mr. Dunworthy is mistaken: they live in a type 1.1 universe instead of type 1.2, and the Novikov self-consistency principle is in effect. Everything that happens has already happened, and they are in a nice and comfortable causality loop.

Now that I have completely spoiled the ending of All Clear (you did take that spoiler warning seriously, didn't you?), it is time to process my feelings. Having finished the book, I have to admit that all the fans of this story are correct: having already read Blackout, reading All Clear is worthwhile. It's a significant investment, but at least I have some closure now. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that way while reading All Clear, particularly during the first half. I remember checking my progress and lamenting, "I still have 300 more pages?" There was some heavy skimming happening at some points too. Blackout/All Clear are definitely a package deal, but it's a package with a long, dull slog in the middle.

Picking up literally where Blackout concludes, All Clear continues its tradition of long and repetitive discussions of how the historians might have altered events. This builds to an egregious climax on December 29, 1940, when Polly, Eileen, and Mike attempt to find John Bartholomew, a historian from their past who has joined the St. Paul's Cathedral Fire Watch for this one night. They want him to take a message back to Oxford for them, but the continuum gets in their way and leads them on a merry chase across London, constantly interfering when they are so close to finding Bartholomew. It gradually becomes clear that these near-misses and coincidences are a result of the continuum's self-consistency and not just exuberance on the part of Willis, and I suppose that is fair enough. Yet there is a vast gulf between justifiable and enjoyable, and All Clear fails to bridge it.

When considered as a whole, Blackout/All Clear is a very clever and well-planned time travel story. It's possible to tell a time travel story in a linear fashion, but I kind of feel like this misses the point. Willis, on the other hand, clearly enjoys and exults in the intricacy time travel affords the structure of her narrative. Characters whose identities were initially unclear—and, indeed, seemingly irrelevant to our main story—turned out to be familiar faces. In hindsight, Willis left plenty of clues scattered for the clever reader to deduce on his or her own, but I am not that smart. (We actually read The Importance of Being Earnest in one of my first-year English classes, and I have it sitting on my shelf, but I honestly didn't remember it enough to recognize the importance of names like Earnest and Lady Bracknell. Shame on me!) Despite my misgivings about her characterization and the conclusion itself, I can't fault Willis for her planning and preparation, and that is one of the two things that saved me from utterly condemning this book. The other reason is that the science-fictional devices are, as always, secondary to the story and its themes.

Blackout/All Clear is about time travel, but it's also, according to Connie Willis,

about Dunkirk and ration books and D-Day and V-1 rockets, about tube shelters and Bletchley Park and gas masks and stirrup pumps and Christmas pantomimes and cows and crossword puzzles and the deception campaign. And mostly the book’s about all the people who “did their bit” to save the world from Hitler–Shakespearean actors and ambulance drivers and vicars and landladies and nurses and WRENs and RAF pilots and Winston Churchill and General Patton and Agatha Christie–heroes all.

Heroism and the question of what makes someone heroic are central to Blackout/All Clear. Mike originally plans to visit Dover as but one of several trips into the past, each of which will allow him to observe "ordinary people" who get swept up in events and become heroes as a result. Even though his trip to Dover is hasty and he is ill-prepared and everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong, he still thinks he has found such a person in Commander Harold. Yet Mike's ideas about heroism evolve quite a bit as he himself is forced to go undercover, change his identity, and participate directly in the British disinformation campaigns. This complements the heroism demonstrated by civilians during the Blitz, when regular people became ambulance drivers and firefighters and planespotters and rescue workers, when even keeping one's cool became an act of heroism. In this way, Blackout/All Clear is Willis' tribute to everyone who lived through the Blitz, through D-Day, through the war itself: they are all heroes, because as her use of time travel makes explicit, every little action affects history.

I wish this alone were enough to make me love this book. It's enough to make me regret that I did not enjoy it more, but even an appreciation for what Willis is saying cannot improve the black and bored mood that descended upon me as I was reading. Although I hate echoing others, I have to agree with several other reviewers—love it or hate it, there seems to be a general consensus that Blackout/All Clear didn't have to be this long. As it stands, the book suffers from a serious risk of losing its plot through diffusion. There are too many scenes that serve well to depict greater historical detail and further Willis' themes but seem completely redundant to the story itself, and noticing this was sufficient to pull me out of the story and make my inner grumpy critic put on his snooty monocle and sneer—mostly at the characters.

I keep coming back to this, but if I were the head of the Oxford Time Travelling Society (or whatever it's called), I wouldn't let Polly, Mike, and Eileen near the net. And I probably wouldn't let Mr. Dunworthy stay in charge, even if he means well. I'm not sure if Willis is just worried that her readers won't get it, but the historians spend a lot of time speculating why their drops won't open, why the retrieval team hasn't arrived, etc. When Colin—Mr. One Man Retrieval Team himself—finally arrives to take them home, I thought the story would, you know, conclude there. He's back, and now they can go home. But no, I was wrong, and we get another thirty pages in which Colin and Eileen explain to Polly (again) why things are happening the way they are (because they've already happened). I had already clued into Willis' predestination plans before the big reveal, but even for those taken unawares, such a lengthy and repetitive explanation seems more patronizing than helpful. I very much dislike it when authors succumb to the temptation to stop and point at their own clever resolutions, and while I don't think this was Willis' intention by any means, I think that's what the conclusion to All Clear becomes.

Causality loops aren't my favourite type of time travel universe; I much prefer the idea that history can be altered (and that the continuum would inexorably collapse if time travel were possible, so we should be thankful it's not). One of the beautiful things about fiction is its diversity, of course, and so I don't have to like Willis' rules in order to appreciate them. My opinion of Blackout/All Clear as a time travel novel has improved, slightly, because of the obvious care that has gone into working out the tangled chronology of its narrative. And my opinion of this as a work of historical fiction, as a tribute to those who lived through the war and the myriad unsung heroes of the everyday, has only increased as well. Willis works carefully to avoid any actual paradoxes in her novel, but she has managed to create one with me: Blackout/All Clear is obviously deserving praise and acclaim, yet it was also one of my worst experiences reading this year. Somewhere within these two massive volumes is a single, worthwhile story, struggling to escape—and it is the glimpse at that story that I find so alluring and so easy to appreciate, even as the surrounding chaff chokes and cloys.

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This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews534 followers
November 1, 2010
The second half of Blackout more than a sequel. Weird experience – I have massive problems with this book, but I also could not put it down. Hrm.

I think that this book succeeds at its smaller scale purpose. It’s clear from what she’s said that Willis did massive amounts of research about the Blitz, and that she really wanted to make it come alive. Which she did. She takes this sense of fear and purpose, this keep calm and carry on, this practicality and humor and misery, and she nails that bastard to the wall for hundreds of pages. A lot of bombs fell, a lot of people died, a lot of people survived and drank tea and put on plays and did their Christmas shopping. That part works.

But the bigger agenda . . . *shakes head*. Putting aside the pacing problems, and the structure choices that feel more like authorial withholding than the slow progression of the story, and that nothing surprising happens in a Willis book if you’ve ever seen Doctor Who, ignoring the fact that Willis has managed to write about a bunch of people with no families, context, or personal history again.

These books have no momentum. They’re just about a bunch of people stuck in bad situations frantically trying and failing to do things to help themselves, until the time continuum readjusts itself in a series of quotidian accidents and coincidences. And I’m supposed to feel good about that? I’m supposed to believe the pat message at the end about the value of our sacrifices when I’ve just swallowed over a thousand pages of story about people who never managed to effect change any way but by accident? I think Willis thinks she’s writing about people doing their best in crisis, and how the sweep of history is just an accumulation of tiny choices. But from where I’m sitting, it’s just a bunch of people helplessly flailing around inside a weirdly anthropomorphic mechanism she calls the continuum, with all their grace and their bravery and their personal responsibility nullified by the fact that it’s history, it’s already happened, and if it doesn’t, hey, the continuum will make sure it does anyway.

Huh. More put off even than I thought.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,895 followers
October 22, 2019
She does it again.

While it didn’t move me quite as profoundly as her masterpiece Doomsday Book, this elaborately-structured, deeply humane, beautifully-rendered novel proves that Connie Willis is indeed a master. Everything matters, even when, at times, in its hundreds of pages there are moments that seem tangential or muddled. She has worked it all out, and has wound up with an increasingly resonant meditation on hope, courage, chaos, and the small and large ways in which we are all connected to one another.

Very few writers are able to accomplish such a feat as hers, of constructing a tale with terrifically clever and intricate and airtight plotting — while also populating her story with an indelibly human, delightfully vivid, and altogether relatable cast of characters.

This was very, very satisfying indeed.
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
974 reviews94 followers
August 13, 2020
This took me way longer than it should’ve done to finish. First I started it immediately after finishing Blackout, which I would highly recommend, but then I interrupted it to listen to other more pressing buddy read books. Once I got back to it, some 8 months later, I had kind of forgotten some details and was mildly confused at the start.

That aside, this is such an excellent and intricate story. I love the time travel element, which is more prevalent than in Blackout, but the real meat of the story gives life to what it was like in England during WWII. There’s a lot of action, peril and drama, but also humor. And many things, especially the relationships pull at your heartstrings. Alf and Vinnie continue to be the most wonderful characters. I’m quite glad that Mr. Dunworthy didn’t play so much the bumbling dodderhead like he did in Doomsday Book.

Willis’ writing is highly engaging and she is capable of awakening such a variety of emotions. Her characters seem larger than life sometimes (Alf and Vinnie), but she gives even them such nuance that I believe I will miss having them in my life.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
Author 38 books3,007 followers
March 9, 2011
All Clear, or, I'm An Historian, Get Me Out Of Here!

What I really found lacking in this novel, and in Blackout All Clear 1, was an overall sense of being in another time. I know I was reminded of the fact of it on every single page for a thousand pages (“THIS IS TIME TRAVEL! I am AN HISTORIAN and THIS IS TIME TRAVEL!”), but I never got a real sense of it. Maybe this is because the Oxford of 2060 is very sketchily painted? I have no sense of home for any of the characters, and therefore no real sense of their being displaced, apart from their obvious discomfort. (They remind me of emoting Sims, frantically scurrying around and waving their arms in cyberspace.) There was a quotation in Doomsday Book to the effect, What if God wants to help us but can’t get to us -- what if God is permanently separated from the world He created by something more terrible than Time? It brings tears to my eyes even badly paraphrased. What could be more terrible than Time? That dreadful gulf, the doom of us all? I got a pretty good sense of the horrors of being bombed in All Clear, but until the last 200 of the duology’s 1000 pages I got no real sense of the finality of Time.

And for most of the journey I missed it desperately. It’s what I want in a time travel book; it’s the whole point of a time travel book. A sense of the past, a sense of longing for the past, and the impossibility of ever really touching it no matter how close you get or how important it is to you -- the danger inherent in living too much in it and the fact that you can’t change it, even if you want to. Doomsday Book had all of that; Blackout All Clear 1 and All Clear don’t.

I also don’t get much sense of place throughout the book. It’s a very generalized sort of “wartime England” which I find quite difficult to visualize (it’s also peppered with Americanisms). Jarringly, in marked contrast with the vagueness of the local landscapes (either green and rural or grey and flattened), the lengthy action in St. Paul’s Cathedral is described in loving and occasionally excessive detail. This doesn’t make me go, “How well St. Paul’s comes to life here!” so much as, “This is the only place in England the author has ever visited!” Clearly she has done her research on Underground shelters and upmarket London department stores, and has access to a comprehensive list of bomb sites. It is probably the case that I know more about England in WWII than yer average reader, and am cursed with noticing--ahem--discrepancies. But the spotty and occasionally inaccurate historical background really began to wear me down after a while, and took some of the enjoyment out of my reading.

It also bothers me that I can’t think of a single instance throughout the duology where a, pardon me, an historian EVER makes an observational note on paper or records an event electronically (coded messages limited strictly to “helphelphelp” don’t count as research notes). One of the highlights of Doomsday Book is Kivrin cradling her wrist recorder and thinking, “I am here in place of those that I love.” (I’m quoting from memory -- I read it in 1993). She’s got it all down. She has done her fieldwork in spite of the dangers involved, and she never loses sight of what her job and mission is. Who’s that devoted to his or her work in All Clear? As far as I can tell they’re not even equipped for taking notes.

I’ve read and enjoyed other Connie Willis books. These two have received such all-round spectacular reviews, both professional and personal, that I was expecting something… well, neater. Overall I found the duology sprawling and disorganized. I might have enjoyed it more if my own expectations hadn’t been set so high.

P.S. To the editor: I don’t understand why these two books aren’t 1) the single book the author originally intended, and 2) 700 pages shorter.

P.P.S. To my fellow readers: I will never take any of your recommendations seriously EVER AGAIN. :p

P.P.P.S. There’s a pretty good parody of Blackout All Clear 1 over here:


P.P.P.P.S. If you liked Blackout/All Clear, go read everything Robert Westall ever wrote, starting with The Machine Gunners.

Profile Image for Lost Planet Airman.
1,250 reviews73 followers
October 14, 2020
Much better than the first part, given to us in Blackout. I suspect, still, that 20% of Blackout and 10% of this book could be cut out, without loss of content or quality.
Really, these are more of a historical drama set in the Blitz than anything else. Ms. Willis deftly twists the story-lines of past and future back together into a very satisfying ending.
Profile Image for Jaylia3.
752 reviews132 followers
October 4, 2014
I don’t think I’ve ever been so sad to leave a set of characters behind. After spending more than 1,000 pages with them between All Clear and its predecessor Blackout, most of it set during the Blitz of London with lots of high tension twists and turns, heartaches and triumphs, I feel like we’ve been through the war together and it’s hard to let go. With three time traveling historians as protagonists and numerous less prominent but well developed supporting characters, both books have lots of varied Blitz experiences for readers to live through vicariously.

While at times the narrative seemed overly long, Willis is highly skilled at weaving plot lines together and involving you deeply in her characters’ lives such that the ending is a masterpiece of emotional catharsis. A distracted and clumsy Alan Turing, the code breaking genius of Bletchley Park, is among the notables who make brief cameo appearances, but most of the story involves ordinary people and their everyday acts of determined coping and homefront heroism. I listened to the audio version of All Clear and the narrator is absolutely wonderful and so very good at creating different voices that I still hear her in my head when reading the text.
Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews376 followers
January 26, 2023
This is a review for both Blackout and All Clear. There are already many full reviews about the storyline so I will just make a few points here. These two books really should have been one book with half of the material edited out. That would have made for a less frustrating read and one good book instead of two so-so books. I found myself skipping pages so as to avoid reading yet again the same material which I'd already read many times and to find the next plot point in the story.

On the plus side: A lot of excellent research went into these books so I have a much better appreciation of what it was like to live through The Blitz for having read them. I liked the main characters a lot and was with them expectantly every step of the way through their journeys. Willis does know how to build suspense so I kept flipping the pages to see what would happen next or in the end. Once I got to the end it was completely predictable, so a bit anti-climatic. This was a fun book to read. Anyone who can make the Blitz fun must be a good writer, just in need of a good editor.
Profile Image for Clouds.
228 reviews633 followers
June 30, 2013

Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).

* Published as two books, Blackout and All Clear do not work as two separate stories. This is one tale spread over two volumes. As such I am writing one extra long review and spreading it between the two books.

** As this is a time-travel book with events reported in a non-linear manner, I am writing this review as a ‘non-linear’ ‘time-travel’ review. I’ve labelled the paragraphs and then jumbled them up between the two reviews. You poor schmucks have to make sense of my drivel (if such a thing is possible) – think of it like a puzzle, or a game, yeah?

*** Sometimes I wonder; is my brilliance perhaps outshone only by my modesty?

Begin your journey by going through THE BROWN DOOR WITH THE BRASS HANDLE

Parts of your journey will occur on this review of BLACKOUT

So let’s have a look at some of the regular complaints…

1) I read the first book and it just ends without any sort of resolution or even a proper cliff-hanger… it just ends! I’m very unsatisfied.

- Dear reader, read both books together and judge them as one story. She could have published as one book – it would have been thick enough to stand on when you need to reach on top of the wardrobe – but from a narrative perspective, it would have made sense. Be grateful that she split it into two portable tomes!

### FORM WTF/83/CC
Overall, I’d give it 3.5 stars, and I thought the second half was slightly stronger, hence the 3|4 split. It didn’t need to be so long. It could have slimmed down to a thousand pages in one novel and not lost a huge amount of its impact – that wasn’t a massive issue for me, but would have pulled it up that half-star to a 4. A more quirky protagonist would have given it a little extra spark – Polly, Mike and Eileen are all lovely people, but they’re all fairly middle-of-the-road types – the most memorable characters are the Hodbin children. A bit of a curveball on one of the leads would have pumped it up to 4.5 for me. Finally, a better explanation of Dunworthy’s behaviour – switching all the assignments around (but letting them go ahead, unprepared) seemed negligent and inept. I know the incompetence of bureaucracy is one of Willis’ regular themes – but here I felt it wasn’t supported or justified adequately. Correcting this would have seen me 5-star the story with a giddy grin on my funny little face.

I know they get a weaker version (made by a different manufacturer) in New Zealand, and the Aussies have an equivalent called Vegemite – but can you buy Marmite in the States? If you’ve never heard of Marmite, it’s a thick, black, salty syrup – a kind of gloopy yeast extract – which is eaten spread on toast. It’s got a strong and distinctive flavour. I don’t think Connie Willis mentions Marmite at any point in Blackout or All Clear , but the whole production reeks of Marmite to me. For as long as I can remember, Marmite’s advertising slogan has been “love it or hate it”. If you offer a stranger some Marmite on toast, either their eyes light up in delight or their face screws up in disgust. There’s no middle ground with Marmite – it’s a polarising product – and in the UK anything which produces an equivalent, strongly polarised response can be branded as eliciting ‘a Marmite response’. Connie Willis is something of a Marmite author, and with this duology she’s reached a new peak of Marmiteyness. Vintage Marmite – aged for an even stronger reaction.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed this sort of response to Willis’ work. Her ’93 novel, (and fellow Locus/Hugo winner, Doomsday Book , prompted similar wails of praise as well as angry gnashings of teeth. I find this curious. So what is up with the Willis?

How are these for some polarised review quotes…

The lovers:
“This is a very impressive novel, and obviously a labor of love for Willis. I expect one of these books will win her another Hugo.” – Jamie
“This is a beautifully crafted book,” “It’s ingenious and a great deal of fun. It’s funny, tragic, romantic, heartwarming, and completely engrossing.” – Lisa Vegan
“Willis manages something transcendent,” “these volumes are the greatest work of science fiction ever written.” – Kaethe

Blackout / All Clear is part of the Oxford Time Travel series. Future Oxford historians go back in time to live in WW2 and study various aspects of life at that time. Something goes wrong with their ‘drops’, the portals they use to travel through time, and they are stranded in the past and must survive in wartime Britain. It’s a solid premise that doesn’t vary too far from the successful template of Doomsday Book (where a single historian is stranded in the middle ages).

Blackout and All Clear (together) won the Locus Sci-Fi and Hugo awards in 2011, beating off competition from:
Bujold’s latest Vorkosigan Saga - Cryoburn ,
Bank’s latest Culture novel – Surface Detail
Mira Grant’s debut, the GR Sci-Fi Readers Choice winner – Feed
… and Ian McDonald The Dervish House (which sounds awesome!)

After this I read: A Madness of Angels
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 28 books5,678 followers
March 6, 2012
Breathtaking. And, let's face it, part of the reason why I was crying at the end wasn't just because the ending was so perfect, but because I know that I will never write a book as amazing as this.

Not only has Willis crafted an intricately layered time travel novel, but it's also an outstanding piece of historical fiction. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of WWII, and makes you feel the horror and hardship of life in England during the war in a way that no other author can. (At least none in my experience.) Her characters, both the time travelers and the "contemps" are real and completely engaging. Even when a random shopgirl or crabby landlady gets killed in the Blitz, you feel their loss. And how Willis kept track of each of the characters, some of them with multiple aliases and existing in multiple threads, I will never know.

There were surprises and twists, humor, romance, adventure, mystery, history, and science all wrapped together into one fabulous package. This review, by the way, also applies to the first half of the story, BLACKOUT, which you must read first. And you must read them, yes, you must.
Profile Image for Adhityani.
121 reviews46 followers
June 30, 2011
Oh I really don't know where to start: This book has been a disappointment and an utter waste of time. I dragged myself through 'Blackout' and persisted with this one, thinking that it will be all worth it. But despite of the twist in the end and what many have termed 'brilliant' finale, I still can't get over the fact that the omniscient narrative of Ms Willis, in which she follows each miniscule thought of the time travellers, really time consuming, boring, to a point it became truly annoying and in the end just runed everything for me. Yes, I do find her take on time travelling intriguing (sending historians back in time to study history without affecting history) and some of characters have the potential to actually be memorable, but whatever empathy I had for them was just offset by their constant complaining, self-doubting, arrogance and two sentences; "Where is the retrieval team?" and "This is time travel". Yes we got that! Insert big sigh here. Did she really have to repeat that over and over again over 700+ pages? In short: Not worth your time.
Profile Image for Chris.
2,863 reviews205 followers
November 16, 2014
No reviewette I write can possibly do this book (or really, the single book composed of Blackout and All Clear) justice. Amazing. Epic. Subtlety of detail that had me paging back to confirm something hinted. Love. Loss. Loyalty. Uncertainty. Hope. Humor. Tragedy. The triumph of the human spirit. Connie Willis has outdone herself with this amazing tale of time travel so deeply rooted in place. Her Hugo and Nebula awards for Blackout/All Clear bring her lifetime totals to eleven Hugos and seven Nebulas. Make sure you have both books on hand and clear your schedule for a few days...
Profile Image for Jemppu.
501 reviews93 followers
February 8, 2022
Perhaps this wasn't the best of book(s) to have started with Willis. As much as I wanted to like it, the story just didn't rise to the occasion, but dragged on and on and on from one book to another with hardly any suspense or change in its tiringly frenzied pace. I ultimately had to accept, that despite its few scattered moments, the destination hadn't enough of an impact to justify the taxing journey.

The narration was meandering and repetitive, and the approach got lost somewhere in execution: the future outsider's POV with its inability to commit to a moment due to the constant expectation of getting out, didn't feel it really allowed for a portrayal of the life or the war experience of the era in a fully convincing or immersive manner, yet neither did the approach of 'a lone traveler trapped in the past with nothing to do but wait for rescue and speculate' lend itself to a compelling time-travel narrative, when the reality of their own time never really got established or served in contrast (or when the most ardent thing they had to say about their 'captive' era seemed to be "air raids, misbehaving kids and hosiery runs are all quite inconvenient").

The premise appears so ripe for a more epic time adventure, yet Willis doesn't seem to have the want to explore ie. the possible cultural/societal differences between the eras to add depth to the characters' unusual misplacement situation, instead, seems rather content to just run around in a period setting, playing with situational comedy and shallow staged drama, with the excuse of not needing to commit to a full on period work either.

The most genuine experience the reading of the two books thus provided felt like that of a tourist group separated and lost in a foreign city, without money, IDs or phones, fretting over transportation, place names, accommodations, crucial travel dates, and just frantically rushing about confused trying to get by and re-group: the comprehensive, irksome experience of a vacation gone awry.

It also felt regrettably wasteful of the amount of factual knowledge to spent it on a creatively/dramatically/structurally mediocre work.

I realize this might not be the best (edited) of Willis' work, and so shall still remain curious to find out as to why they are as beloved as they are.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,633 followers
January 29, 2023
This was the final book of Willis' Oxford Time Travel series. It was a satisfying ending to a VERY long story started in Blackout - over 1200 pages of narrative! It picks up the action immediately at the close of the previous book and brings us to the climax where we think that the characters will be stuck forever in the past and beyond that to the conclusion which I will NOT spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that, if you have the stamina, it does move rather quickly despite its bulk and the conclusion does wrap up all of the loose ends, well most of them anyway. I found a few things a bit strange and overall it could have probably been cut down by 15-20% without losing its power, but that might be just me. In any case, it is not surprising that this double-whammy swept the sci-fi lit prizes for the year it came out. It is also of note that this series is overall the most prized sci-fi series ever, so there's that.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Hunter.
326 reviews14 followers
March 13, 2011
Three stars is a compromise rating here. I have loved much of Connie Willis' work and her strengths keep growing. There is much to love in this two-book story: fantastic period detail, including real consideration for both how the period looks from a remove and how it was experienced by its "contemps"; nicely drawn characters who react in plausible ways to the situations they face; intricate plotting and an interesting story to tell. Unfortunately, there is much here to make one want to pull a Dorothy Parker and hurl the book across the room with great force. The endless fretting--while perfectly plausible--was incredibly tedious, as was the detailed explanation of every single trip anyone in the book took, whether across all of England or one neighborhood in London. Being very familiar with London myself, I appreciated the accuracy of Willis' research, but writing is not the place where you get credit for showing all your work. Finally, given the religious personnel and iconography evoked, it seemed disingenous that no one ever suggested--even as a theory to be rejected--that one explanation for the manipulations of the "time continuum" that they might be talking about God. Religious explanations aren't my cup of tea and might not be appropriate to a science fiction story, but under the circumstances, the omission felt deliberate and coy.

Overall, had it not been for a friend wanting my thoughts on the ending, I might not have read the second book. I would have missed a lot of good--any time anything was actually happening, it's a great read--but spared myself a lot of tedious page-turning.
Profile Image for RJ - Slayer of Trolls.
823 reviews192 followers
August 23, 2021
1200 pages - between Blackout and All Clear - chock full of anxiety-ridden ramblings and repetition can be wearying even for Willis's fans. But what ultimately emerges is a massive historical novel about the courage of the common man - and woman, and child - in the face of adversity during WWII in England, thinly disguised as an entry in the mildly science-fiction Oxford Time Travel series. The details in the setting and characters are well rendered, and historical events such as the Blitz, the Dunkirk evacuation, Operation Fortitude, and many others are examined from a ground-level view, creating a captivating air of authenticity that allows the reader to feel like the real time traveler.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 150 books37.5k followers
November 21, 2010
Aside from horror (which I avoid) I really, really dislike comedy that depends on humiliation of the helpless, and anxious, frenetic running around with nothing getting done.

These two books were nothing but running anxiously around, the entire thousand plus pages. Because of that, I couldn't read straight through--I had to put the book down after a chapter or two, but Willis's writing is so good, her scenes so vivid, and above all, the numinous moments so lovely (and other moments so poignant) that I persisted. It takes a lot of draw to get me to read any of these three things. She carried it off; the end is beautifully done.
Profile Image for lucky little cat.
548 reviews106 followers
April 23, 2020
Awfulness this persistent requires a full-sized keyboard and all ten fingers to describe.*

Cutting my losses, DNF at 90%. I can see the future, and it's shamelessly predictable.

BOTH volumes in this series should have been trimmed drastically. Instead, readers are dragged through several hundred extraneous pages of the time-traveling main characters' circular agonizing over whether they've irreparably screwed up the historical timeline. Have they doomed England and themselves? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe. Maybe not. Repeat repeat repeat.

The characters' neuroses are rooted squarely in the author’s misplaced humility. Willis is a reverent historian. She is clearly aware that by assigning time-traveling heroes to “help” save the Allies in World War II, she risks undercutting (and cheapening) the true life stories of those who experienced the war. The author's response to this dilemma is to make her characters brood and soul-search endlessly, presumably so they'll seem less like upstarts. Rest easy, readers, the time-travelers are Taking Their Responsibilities Seriously. And invoking the apropos Hamlet quotes while stalling! These numerous woe-is-me, do-I-dare paragraphs are empty, annoying, and distracting. And they bulk up the page count unforgivably.

Nothing in the rest of the story adequately compensates readers for all of those deadweight pages. If you’ve read any decent World War II historical fiction, Blackout has almost nothing new to show you. Worse, you’ll visit the familiar historical scenes in the company of two plucky time-traveling young heroines with nearly interchangeable personalities and a male counterpart who’s equal parts cardboard and Goodness.

Supporting characters will try your patience even more. We get the full church-basement’s complement: a shrewish landlady, louche-but-good-hearted shopgirls, knitting spinsters, husband-hunting WACs, harmless balding men, and a silvery Olivier-esque Master Thespian who spouts Shakespeare lines instead of ever just talking. These are stock characters who behave exactly as you would expect, and the effect on the reader after several hundred pages is soul-shriveling. Add to the cast Alf and Binnie Hodbin, aDORably scruffy orphan delinquents in the mode of the Herdmans of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Willis all-too-frequently relies on the Hodbins’ major talents (squabbling, squalling and stealing) for comic relief, with predictable results.

And all of these characters come back for more in volume 2, All Clear. (Although the Master Thespian does get actual conversational speeches this go-round, and the Hodbins re-enter relatively late in the action.) The inevitable wrap-up begins in the last 20% of the pages, and features a character death so mercilessly telegraphed that the extra manipulative pathos stings like an insult. (“Dead?” Blink-blink. “_____’s staying dead this time?”) Altogether, it’s like spending 26-plus hours with a mediocre old-time radio melodrama, complete with AM on-air whine.

keywords: just put all the parts of all the rough drafts in there, the fans won't mind; I can out-martyr all of you just by staying put; how I miss my Air Raid Adelaide costume; so that's why it's called a Holman Bible; well fudge, there goes our pantomime; bright green coats fill me with dread, too

Pet Peeves:

WWII homefront folks who talked this incessantly and accurately about where the bombs were going to fall would have been locked up pronto as conspirators.

I’m especially irked and disappointed that Willis drags Dunworthy (her Dumbledore-esque stalwart of The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog) into this mess as a helplessly frail old man. There's nothing like crapping all over your own legend.

*I'm reviewing both volumes of the series together here.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,119 reviews112 followers
October 25, 2019
This is the second volume of the two-book series, so read Blackout before reading this review.

Our three time travelers found each other and now together try to get out from the 1940 blitz in London. Once
again it was a mix of great historical narrative with a great care about details and that 'close call' soup opera-ness that irks me: why, oh why another traveler was just behind the wall/next door/was coughing and unable to talk?! And if talking than starting from far away, so they never reach the essential info! It is fine once or twice, but when it continues page after page… The protagonists have done time travel for years and studied others, who did so, but they are always surprised and confused that person A can meet person B in the latter’s future but the former’s past. It’s time travel 101!

One of the silent characters in the book is a famous mystery writer Agatha Christie and the knot of intertwined time travels can be seen as a homage to her. I know a lot of people who adores her mysteries, but I’m not one of them. As a book-devouring teen I read a score of her mysteries and quite soon I was able to predict, who the killer will be even before the murder - her clues stuck out like sore thumbs for me (except for special cases like Murder on the Orient Express) and here the clues have been obvious for me as well.

What I disliked is that constant assumption that the war can be either won or lost instead of continuum of possible victories with different schedules and death tolls. And there can be nothing bad after the war, like an attack from the USSR (see real life Operation Unthinkable ordered by British prime minister Winston Churchill in 1945 at the end of World War II in Europe). Or cold war turning nuclear in the 60s or 70s. or infinity (!) of other disasters, which could have happened after the VE Day.

Mopreover, if one looks at the economics of the Third Reich it was doomed against the US - the great book on Nazi economics is The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. Even if we assume that Hitler won over the Britain and USSR (both questionable even with losing Dunkirk) and got A-bomb by 1945 (The Making of the Atomic Bomb says that in 1945 Germans were at several years behind and with no capacities to keep the project) he still had no chances I think.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,035 reviews332 followers
December 22, 2020
All Clear concludes the story Willis began in Blackout. It's unfortunate that the books had to be published separately, because they really are two halves of the same book and can't really be considered separately.

In Willis's time-travelling-Oxford-historians universe, several historians have been sent back to various points in England during World War II: Polly, in London masquerading as a shopgirl; Eileen, working as a maid in the country with evacuated children; and Michael, studying acts of heroism at Dunkirk. Each historian slowly realizes that something has gone very wrong with the time travel mechanism, and they appear to be trapped in the past, while on the other end, James Dunworthy (head of the time travellers) and Colin Templer (a student in love with Polly) struggle to find the marooned historians.

If I had to make a couple of small criticisms, I would say that the books are a little too long and could have been edited down a bit. Also, the relationship between Polly and Colin could have been more developed; it comes to a head with a suddenness that didn't quite convince me. In the end, though, I became so invested in the characters and the detailed setting that I didn't much care how long the books were; I read happily late into the night to finish All Clear.

The complex narrative could easily have become confusing, but Willis balances her viewpoints and weaves the story's threads together superbly: everything left open-ended at the end of Blackout is slowly brought together and wrapped up by the end of All Clear. She even brings in bits of other works in this universe (To Say Nothing of the Dog and the wonderful short story "Fire Watch"), which makes it even more satisfying. Her evocation of wartime Britain is beautifully detailed and understanding, and I loved her celebration of small heroic acts, easily overlooked, yet vitally important.
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