The ship has been like a world within itself, a vast floating city outside of normal rules. But the longer the journey continues, the more confined it is starting to feel, deck upon deck, passenger upon passenger, all of them churning around each other without anywhere to go…
1939: Europe is on the brink of war when young Lily Shepherd boards an ocean liner in Essex, bound for Australia. She is ready to start anew, leaving behind the shadows in her past. The passage proves magical, complete with live music, cocktails, and fancy dress balls. With stops at exotic locations along the way—Naples, Cairo, Ceylon—the voyage shows Lily places she’d only ever dreamed of and enables her to make friends with those above her social station, people who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.
But Lily soon realizes that she’s not the only one hiding secrets. Her newfound friends—the toxic wealthy couple Eliza and Max; Cambridge graduate Edward; Jewish refugee Maria; fascist George—are also running away from their pasts. As the glamour of the voyage fades, the stage is set for something sinister to occur. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and Lily’s life will be changed irrevocably.
Dangerous Crossing, a historical novel from author Rachel Rhys set in 1939, follows the journey of a young woman, Lily Shepherd, from England to Australia, on board the Orontes cruise liner. Readers are treated to engaging descriptions of various ports along the way and a microcosmic view of society in the passengers of the ship.
While reading Dangerous Crossing, I found myself equally intrigued and bored. The characters are seductive in that they pull the reader in without actually moving the story forward. Travelling in “tourist class” or middle class, Lily finds herself making fast friends with brother and sister, Edward and Helena Fletcher. Together, they meet Max and Eliza, a sociable couple from first class that Lily observed prior to embarkation in a compromising position. These people, along with her cabin mates, Audrey and the stern Ida, the overbearing George Price, and Maria Katz, an Austrian Jew, running from the Nazis, shape Lily’s life for the next 5 weeks in unexpected ways.
I loved the idea of an ocean crossing and a young woman setting out on her own, but found Lily to be overly dramatic. Though typical for a woman of the late 1930s, she seemed overly concerned with falling in love and seemed to do so quickly with Edward, while developing a strange attraction for the larger than life Max. Edward draws Lily into a social foursome with Max and Eliza which even she recognizes quickly is a dangerous choice. While there are some wonderful scenes in ports around the world, the majority of Dangerous Crossing is made up of various social activities and Lily making the same bad choices again and again. While I understand that bad decisions are normal for her age and station, she (and the story) became difficult to relate to as she didn’t seem to learn from her mistakes.
Aside from Lily’s journey, Dangerous Crossing really showcases the Orontes as a microcosm of society. There is class distinction, racism, sexual assault, talk of war, infidelity, homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion, death of a child, murder and so on in the 5 weeks it takes the ship to sail to Australia. While all are important, juggling so many within the confines of the story didn’t do any of them justice and towards the end just felt as though the author was trying to see how many hot topics she could include.
Despite all this, the characters, especially Max and Eliza, left an impression.
3 Stars for Dangerous Crossing.
Dangerous Crossing was published in January 2018 by Atria Books
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for honest feedback.
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