Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
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Tess is determined to start fresh in America -- she only has to survive the Atlantic crossing, and then she can escape her aristocratic English masters amid the busy streets of New York. But surviving may be harder than she thinks. Before she's even aboard, Tess has made a terrible and powerful enemy -- a man whose secrets she can't begin to fathom. Fortunately, she's also caught the eye of Alec, a young millionaire who's caught up in his own deadly battle with the heartless leader of a werewolf cult. Tess's chance for a new life is doomed from the start -- because if the wolves don't kill her, her journey aboard the ill-fated Titanic might.
Fateful had a lot of potential. Claudia Gray constructs a lush world, equal parts historical Golden Age and paranormal darkness. The lilt of the formal prose transports readers to a time of ladies and gentlemen, grandeur and industry, while the ominous opening sets the stage for a tale of intrigue. The Titanic itself is shrouded in infamy, and readers will begin the novel prepared to be swept away on its fateful tide.
Though the addition of werewolves to the legendary ship might seem preposterous, Gray creates a fascinating and unusual interpretation of the mythical beasts that blends perfectly with the period. The wolves of this world live in darkness, the minions of a Brotherhood whose power seems infinite. The allure of secret societies and blood rituals is almost irresistible when combined with the Titanic's inevitable doom. Yet, though there were several adrenaline-fueled scenes of death and danger, Fateful only skimmed the surface of their secrets, leaving the apparently rich backstory of the Brotherhood obscured. Their massive forces are represented by just one man, who is at times almost melodramatic in his villainy. Though the mythology immediately piqued my interest, it failed to deliver on this brilliant setup.
Tess is an admirable heroine, a servant girl determined to escape her old life and the miserable family for whom she works. It takes nerves of steel to start anew, completely alone in a foreign land, and it's impossible not to cheer for such an underdog. However, Tess's narration becomes grating as the novel progresses, telling rather than showing. She frequently explains things that should be obvious to the reader, which is rather off-putting and comes across as condescending.
Alec is a quintessential tortured soul, and readers will find his wolfish charm captivating. Though this kind of supernatural angst is commonplace these days, in this novel it works. This is a dark and unjust world, and Alec's fight for his freedom and the safety of everyone he loves is heart-wrenching. However, his star-crossed romance with Tess moves rather quickly, and is a bit predictable -- the millionaire's son, plagued by his past, falls for a lowly servant girl but must stay away "for her own good." Though they face immeasurable odds, many of their obstacles seem to be created by the lovers themselves.
The secondary characters are some of the best in the novel. The scandalous secrets of the many rich and famous on board is a tantalizing detail, adding finesse to the world-building and tying nicely into the development of the plot. Even Tess's employers are not free from stain. Her mistress Irene is beguiling, hiding a surprising flame beneath her delicate surface, while the rest of her family make for compelling lesser villains, especially since much of their cruelty arises from pitiful circumstance. Ned, Tess's fellow servant, is passionate, strong and loyal, worthy of his own tale -- I would have liked to see even more of him in the novel. Thankfully, the story also features at least one admirable parent (something so often lacking in paranormal romance): Alec's father is a great man who cares deeply for his son, despite his haunted existence, and thinks no less of Tess for her drastic difference in circumstance.
Though the Titanic element was what initially drew me to the book, at times it was easy to forget they were on board. I expected the legendary ship to play a larger role in the plot, but except for a few brief moments, readers will forget the lovers are at sea until they strike the iceberg. In a historic tragedy where the reader knows how it must end, the conclusion is a bit too tidy and the resolution rather deus ex machina. Though it might be what some readers hope for, it felt inauthentic and ultimately left me unsatisfied.
Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.