Sisters of Fortune
Grade : B

The eponymous sisters in Anna Lee Huber’s Sisters of Fortune were real women who really sailed on the doomed maiden voyage of the Titanic. Those who love historical fiction about the famed wreck will thoroughly enjoy another opportunity to experience the disaster from the warmth and dryness of their sofa.

Sisters Flora, Alice and Mabel Fortune have just enjoyed a multi-month Grand Tour of Europe and the Mediterranean with their uber-wealthy parents and youngest brother, Charlie. While the prospect of a luxurious trip aboard the famous ocean liner Titanic offers more thrills, each sister is reluctant to return home to Winnipeg, Canada, for her own reasons.

Oldest sister Flora dreads her upcoming wedding because while her fiancé will certainly offer her the comfortable life her parents want for her, she’s pretty sure she doesn’t love him. Flora becomes even more uncertain when she meets charming tennis player Chess Kinsey and, against her earnest efforts, finds herself falling for him.

Alice is also engaged, and although her feelings for her fiancé are more affectionate, she’s not looking forward to the claustrophobic life that awaits her as a wife and mother. She enjoys a flirtation with fellow passenger William Sloper and experiences some forbidden entertainment, terrified of what her parents will say if they ever find out.

Mabel doesn’t want marriage at all. She wants to attend university and fight for important causes like women’s suffrage. She figures the trip home, surrounded by influential, strong women like Margaret “Mollie” Brown, will be a great opportunity to convince her father that pursuing an education will not take away her femininity.

As the sisters explore the wonders of the largest ship ever built, they are faced with the constraints placed on women of high society at that time. All the while, we the reader know that disaster is looming.

There is something about reading a book set in real history that you know will not have a happy ending. Given the dictates of ‘women and children first’, I had few worries about the Fortune sisters and their mother, and had a pretty good idea of the fates awaiting the men in their lives. So it became a matter of who is where when things go down and how do they get to where they end up.

Most intriguing to me is how this book really drives home what it might be like to be in a situation where women (and children) are prioritized to the detriment of the men in their lives. Would I be able to get into a lifeboat knowing that my husband and son might perish? But the alternative is just as unthinkable - to NOT get in that lifeboat.

As a man, how would it feel to know that you are most likely going to die because you have to put the lives of women and children above your own? Would it be easier to accept that fate if you know your wives, sweethearts and daughters will be safe? When Flora’s father has the opportunity to get into a lifeboat (along with her brother and true-love, Chess), he’s dismayed at the prospect:

“Flora, pull yourself together and listen to yourself,” Father barked. “I will not take a seat which should belong to a woman. I will not dishonor myself in such a manner. And neither will your brother or Mr. Kinsey.”

And while it sickens me to think how many men may have lost their lives unnecessarily because of ‘honor’ (especially knowing that the lifeboats launched off the doomed shipp were filled to an average of only 60% capacity), I do understand it given the visceral disgust I remember feeling when watching the movie where men were depicted as cowards for climbing aboard a lifeboat. By giving us characters who experience this horrible, un-winnable situation, I could feel the terror and despair I imagine shook every single person on that ship.

My biggest quibble with the novel is how the setting is established. The beginning of the book is overloaded with Titanic details, giving me the sensation that author Huber was trying to shoehorn in every factoid she’d learned in her research. Every important passenger is mentioned and most have at least a cameo appearance, whether or not it makes sense that the Fortune sisters would have interacted with that particular person. One scene in the beginning has Mabel questioning a stewardess who is unpacking the girls’ clothing about who is on board the ship and who will be coming on board when they reach Cherbourg. Not only did I have a hard time believing these upper-crusty women would speak to a servant about such things, but I had an even harder time believing the servant would know such information and answer back with actual gossip.

Younger brother Charlie serves as the exposition know-it-all, handily providing mundane and technical information that I can’t imagine would have interested the girls in the least so is clearly meant for the reader. And more than once we get some ‘As you know, Bob…’ conversation that isn’t really necessary. All of that served to keep me from being immersed in the story as if I actually were there, but rather felt like I was reading a research paper in which the writer was trying to prove she’d used multiple sources of information. Sprinkling in pertinent details as they are encountered naturally by the sisters and as I, the reader, needed them, would have gone a long way to avoid this.

All that said, I give Huber due props for discovering the Fortune sisters and using them as inspiration for creating a well-written depiction of what it might have been like to be a passenger on the Titanic. There are no surprises, but given how famous this ship wreck is, that can’t be helped. If you enjoyed the movie and are fascinated by the Titanic, then by all means, you should find Sisters of Fortune entertaining.

Reviewed by Jenna Harper
Grade : B

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : March 23, 2024

Publication Date: 02/2024

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Jenna Harper

I'm a city-fied suburban hockey mom who owns more books than I will probably ever manage to read in my lifetime, but I'm determined to try.
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