First things first: All Clear is the latter half of one long work, published months apart in two volumes. If you haven’t read Blackout, go back and start there!
Previously: Polly, Mike, and Eileen, time-traveling historians from future Oxford who were working on separate assignments in WWII England, have just converged in London, compared notes, and concluded that they are in fact stranded in the 1940s. Although they were taught that time travel has built-in protections against this sort of thing, it’s possible they’ve also messed up the entire space-time continuum. Maybe it’s just a glitch and a retrieval team will be here for them any moment. Or maybe it’s a major glitch and their retrieval team is dead in the rubble from last night’s bombing. But once you’ve set a butterfly effect in motion, who knows where it ends? Maybe Hitler wins the war and there’s no Oxford left to send rescuers at all.
No longer having the luxury of knowing how it all turns out or even which parts of London will be safe from air raids tonight, there’s not much else they can do but wait, hope, work. Exactly what everyone else in London is doing, but with added guilt.
This installment in Willis’s time travel series will go over best with those who love its WWII home front setting (litmus test: if you tear up watching Mrs. Miniver? Read the book). The cumulative details of bomb shelters in the London Underground, ambulance units, deception campaigns, and more contribute to an immersive experience of civilian wartime. It’s very much a story about ordinary people: actors and ambulance drivers, plane spotters and air raid wardens. In Willis’s novels, the villain is never a person, it’s entropy itself, the tendency of the universe towards chaos. Her characters pursue paths of great frustration—blocked roads, missed trains, misunderstandings, mistaken assumptions—but despite putting those characters through marathons of neurotic worrying to get there, in the end, Willis always has something affirming to say about the meaningfulness of individual lives and patterns of larger purpose in a chaotic universe.
Check the WRL catalog for All Clear.