While you seldom come across a book that has something for everyone, Distant Waves: a Novel of the Titanic truly does. It has history, philosophy, and science, suspense, romance, and action, all mixed in with elements of the supernatural. It is the story of five sisters, born to a mother who makes her living as a medium, despite the fact that she may or may not actually be psychic. The story begins in New York City, where the girls are trying to make do following the death of their father. On the advice of one of their mother’s clients, the family decides to relocate to Spirit Vale, New York which is a spiritualist haven modeled after the town of Lily Dale. Before they can leave town, however, they have a fateful interaction with scientist Nikola Tesla. The girls are swept up in the wake of Tesla’s new earthquake vibration machine, which he is testing for the first time. This will not be the last time they meet Tesla, and his theories shape many aspects of their lives.
Our main character, Jane, is particularly influenced by her interaction with Tesla. She follows his work throughout the next decade, and becomes something of a fan. His work in the realm of science influences her beliefs in the supernatural, with particular regard to her doubt of her mother’s psychic talents. While Jane does not wish to be suspicious of her mother’s behavior, she is nevertheless skeptical that one can communicate with the dead. In a community like Spirit Vale, this is not a particularly popular opinion, so most of her struggle is shared only with us, the readers. Her uncertainty is compounded by the fact that Jane’s twin sisters, Emma and Amelie seem to possess genuine psychic abilities. They have been channeling, going into trances, and sleepwalking themselves into dangerous situations, such as onto the roof, or into the ocean. The twins become strangely averse to the ocean, and the idea of sea travel in particular.
When a secret is uncovered about her sister Mimi’s parentage, Jane and Mimi impulsively travel back to New York City, whereupon another fateful meeting takes place. Jane reconnects with Tesla, and meets his attractive young assistant Thad, while Mimi meets Benjamin Guggenheim and befriends his mistress, Ninette. Ninette sweeps Mimi off to Europe as her traveling companion, and introduces her to Victor, Guggenheim’s handsome valet. Events are set into motion which, at this point, you may have guessed, particularly if you are aware of the fact that Guggenheim, Ninette, and Victor were all passengers on the RMS Titanic. Through the course of the story all five sisters also find themselves on board the maiden voyage of the doomed ship.
Distant Waves: a Novel of the Titanic is entertaining, particularly if you have an interest in the turn of the century. Many historical figures of the era make cameo appearances, from the Astors, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from W. T. Stead to Harry Houdini. Suzanne Weyn makes us care about these five sisters, and tension builds as the Titanic’s journey comes to its inevitable end. I was pleased to find that only a small portion of the story takes place aboard the Titanic, and emphasis is definitely placed on Jane and her sisters, rather than the story we all know.
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