Review of ON A COLD DARK SEA by Elizabeth Blackwell


ON A COLD DARK SEA was a very well written book, but at times I found myself wondering if there was an actual point to the novel. For me, it was just telling the story of three woman who were loosely connected, but there was no real overall point to the story. The novel centers around the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and, in particular, what happened in one of the lifeboats after the ship sank. The three main characters were all in Lifeboat #21, and their lives are all tied together because of something that happened in the lifeboat between leaving the Titanic and getting picked up by the RMS Carpathia. The problem is that it takes until two-thirds of the way through the book until the reader finds out what happened in the lifeboat. By then, the event has been built up so much that the actual event seems anticlimactic and disappointing. Lifeboat #21 goes back to pull survivors out of the freezing ocean after the ship has gone down. They attempt to rescue a man they find floundering in the water, an argument ensues among the people in the lifeboat, and they ultimately fail to save the man – a man that most of them agree would have probably died anyway. This event haunts three of the women in the lifeboat.

The three main characters of ON A COLD DARK SEA are all interesting, well-developed characters. Esme Harper is traveling in first class with her husband. They are returning from their honeymoon. Esme is a spoiled young woman who really thinks of no one but herself. It’s her affair with a man she met while in England that makes her interesting. As Esme’s lifeboat is being lowered towards the water, she pulls her lover, Charles, into the boat and saves his life. Charlotte Digby is traveling in second class, posing as a married woman. Meanwhile her “husband” is in the cabin next door with his male lover. Charlotte is a pick-pocket and a con artist. Despite her faults, Charlotte is a very likeable and relatable character. In my opinion, Charlotte was the more interesting character and was what kept me reading. The third passenger is Swedish immigrant, Anna Halversson. She is traveling in third class with two of her friends from home, and all three of them are looking forward to their new lives in America. Anna is plucked out of the water by the passengers in Lifeboat #21 before the Titanic sinks.

The first part of ON A COL DARK SEA introduces the three main characters and tells their life story up until they board Lifeboat #21 and the Titanic sinks. The second part of the novel picks up twenty years later when Esme’s lover (now husband) Charlies dies. Charlie’s death forces all three women to confront what happened on the night the Titanic sank. Part two also fills in the readers on what happened to each of the characters over the past twenty years. The third part of the novel puts the three women in the lifeboat and shows us what happened that night. And the fourth part of the novel wraps up each of the three characters’ stories after they’ve confronted what happened that night in the lifeboat.

While I was never quite sure of the point of the novel, it was an enjoyable, well-written read. I enjoyed Charlotte’s character immensely. I believe that Titanic aficionados will definitely enjoy reading ON A COLD DARK SEA.