A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice by Rebecca Connolly tells the true, yet largely untold story of Titanic’s rescue ship, the Carpathia. When Captain Arthur Rostron is woken in the middle of the night with an urgent message from the Titanic, he pushes his crew and twelve-year-old ship to their limit in a race against time to reach the sinking ship. While history has since shown there were other ships possibly closer to the Titanic, the Carpathia was, quite extraordinarily, the only ship who responded to their call for help. With hindsight being 20/20, it’s entirely possible the other ships did not believe the Titanic could ever sink and so the message could not possibly be true. The novel even describes how, when Titanic passengers inquired as to the trouble after the engines stopped, White Star Line crew members told them there was nothing to worry about and to go back to bed.
The reader experiences the sinking of the Titanic through the eyes of a real life third class passenger, Kate Connolly (the author’s note mentions that the name of this person initially caught her eye because of the shared surname.) The reader doesn’t have much time to get to know Kate and her friends before the ship strikes tragedy. The actual sinking, in terms of plot, happens about 30-35% into the book. It’s hard not to have striking visuals with such a sequence given the popularity of the 1997 film. The frantic and disturbing scene keeps the reader moving forward, wondering if the Carpathia will arrive in time despite knowing what happened.
Learning about the nature of Carpathia‘s rescue and the immediate fallout/aftermath of the sinking was interesting. This piece of history in the larger tragedy is often reduced to a footnote, as the author states in the narrative itself through the perspective of Captain Rostron. There were many historical details about the aftermath I did not previously know which naturally propelled the narrative forward. That said, this book wasn’t so much character-driven as it was plot-drive given the nature of the historical incident. The characters were largely vehicles through which to experience the event.
Interesting though the topic was, this book could have used additional editing. There were several typos and the many clunky, awkward sentences. What’s more, toward the end of the book the author seemed to keep repeating herself to drive points home that the reader had already gotten many times before (almost as if to stretch out the manuscript? Or perhaps the author did not think the reader would understand?) Several characters shared the same name, which became confusing at times, although the author note indicates these were names of real passengers so I suppose I can give that a pass. I found myself editing in my head as I was reading, which is never a good thing because it distracts from the material itself.