Review: Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

Book Cover Valora Luck has two things: a ticket for the biggest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world, and a dream of leaving England behind and making a life for herself as a circus performer in New York. Much to her surprise, though, she’s turned away at the gangway; apparently, Chinese people aren’t allowed into America.

But Val has to get on that ship. Her twin brother, Jamie, who has spent two long years at sea, is on board, as is an influential circus owner. Thankfully, there’s not much a trained acrobat like Val can’t overcome when she puts her mind to it.

As a stowaway, Val should keep her head down and stay out of sight. But the clock is ticking and she has just seven days as the ship makes its way across the Atlantic to find Jamie, audition for the circus owner, and convince him to help get them both into America.

Then one night, the unthinkable happens, and suddenly Val’s dreams of a new life are crushed under the weight of the only thing that matters: survival.

4 Stars

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m OBSESSED with all things even remotely relating to the RMS Titanic. I collect memorabilia, I study the wreck and I re-watch James Cameron’s film religiously. So naturally, Stacey Lee’s Luck of the Titanic was at the very pinnacle of my TBR.

A refreshingly diverse take on the infamous disaster, Luck of the Titanic explores class, race and family while plunging you headfirst into one of modern history’s deadliest marine disasters. Luck of the Titanic is unlike any Titanic story you’ve read before but while I toughly enjoyed it, I wasn’t completely satisfied.

On the 14th of April 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage across the transatlantic. Less than three hours later, in the early hours of the 15th, it sank below the frigid waves, taking with it the live of 1,500 passengers and crew.

We’re all familiar with Titanic’s haunting story but, what many don’t know is that of the 710 passengers who survived, six of them were Chinese.

These passengers had every right to survive the trauma of Titanic’s sinking but were branded cowards, facing intense discrimination. Then, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, they were forced out of America. As a result, these men became nothing more than history’s footnotes, shamed for having survived for nothing more than being Chinese.

Luck of the Titanic is inspired by their stories of courage and bravery.

But while Luck of the Titanic had every potential of being a serious, poignant novel, I felt that there was always something lacking. Don’t get me wrong – I adored exploring the hidden depths of Titanic with Valora and Jamie but as a whole, I felt the book lacked development. I just wanted more.

Because here’s the thing [hello unpopular opinions]: I felt Luck of the Titanic tended to shy away from some of its more confronting themes, only skirting the edges.

Hear me out…

Considering the social and political climates of the decade, there was actually a lot of room for deeper commentary. Not only do you have an era teetering on the precipice of War but you’ve got the woman’s suffrage movement, the religious tensions between the Protestants and Catholics and the rising middle class of the industrial era. You know, that idea of “New Money” and the “American Dream”. And Stacey Lee definitely hinted at these themes but I wanted her to dig a little deeper. Elevate Luck of the Titanic to status of historical epic [because trust me – the potential was there].

But, if you overlook these details, Luck of the Titanic is still an important novel, providing some much needed representation and diversity to the historical fiction genre.

Because trust me, the genre can be very… well, white. And that’s what Luck of the Titanic works to address – oppression and history’s treatment of other cultures.

No matter how we try to sugar coat it, history is messy and Titanic’s especially. The crew’s treatment of it’s third class passengers and immigrants was truly horrific and these characters face blatant racism throughout. Our protagonist Valora spends the majority of the novel between classes further highlighting the attitude in which these minorities were treated. It’s confronting but it’s necessary.

Besides the grandeur of the RMS Titanic herself, what I did love about this story is its heavy focus on family. Valora is a young biracial woman trying to make her way in what could only be described as a man’s world. When she’s refused entry for being half Chinese, she takes matters into her own hands, stowing away on-board to find her twin brother, Jaime. And let me tell you, I fell in love with Jaime and his crew of misfits – especially Olly and Wink [who must be protected at all costs]. Valora and Jaime bicker, they argue like you wouldn’t believe but they would sacrifice ANYTHING for the other.

Which makes things awfully dramatic when the ship inevitably collides with the iceberg…

Speaking of icebergs, Stacey Lee did an amazing job at capturing the panic and chaos as it all fell apart. I was on the edge of my seat, grasping the book as if my life depended on it, anxiously waiting to see who would make it out alive [because let’s face it – this is Titanic]. And be warned, it gets pretty intense, even if obstacles were quickly overcome. Basically, standby with the tissues because you’re going to need them [FYI I’m still not okay].

The ending too is particularly intense… Valora and Jamie’s story ends abruptly and very ~unexpectedly~. Let’s just say I thought I had it all figured out and definitely wasn’t expecting that final plot twist… [if you know you know].

That said, I did feel that the actual sinking was rushed. I also felt Stacey Lee relied a little too heavily on the fact that everyone knows what happens to the Titanic. And I’m not going to lie, it’s lazy writing. We get a few explanations thrown here and there but the technicalities of the sinking are never fully detailed. If you haven’t seen the movie, if you’re not familiar with HOW the Titanic sinks then you’ll probably find yourself scrambling to put the pieces together.

In the end, and despite what this seriously contradictory review might suggest, I really did enjoy Luck of the Titanic. It’s an important, refreshingly diverse take on a crucial moment in modern history, loosely inspired by the very real passengers it chose to forget. But the more I wrote, the more I painstakingly edited this review, I couldn’t help seeing those pesky little cracks in the plaster. And they kept churning away in my mind. Maybe I’ve been too critical, maybe I’m too close to the source material? I just wanted it to really push that envelope – and in most ways it does.

Bottom line: would 100% recommend this book.

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