Spirit of the Titanic – by Nicola Pierce

Produced by O’Brien Press, this story takes a unique angle on the enduring Titanic story. The central character, Samuel Scott, worked at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast where Titanic, the pride of the White Star Line, was built. Of the seventeen men who died during its construction, it is believed that Samuel, aged just 15, was the first to die after he fractured his skull in a fall. Just a couple of months after this book was published in May 2011, his unmarked grave in Belfast City Cemetery was given a headstone, 101 years after his death.

The voice of a dead teenager may seem an unusual starting point for a story, but it is a very shrewd choice. After an evocative introduction in which the bustle of the shipyard is captured, the ship sets sail – unexpectedly fulfilling Sam’s wish to be on board the maiden voyage. Because he is already dead, he can only be there as a ghost, but this creative casting allows Pierce to take the reader around the great ship at will, depicting characters and settings in fast-paced succession.

Accompany Sam as he wanders at leisure around first class staterooms, dining rooms and lounges, admiring the opulent splendour which was so celebrated when the ship was launched. Enjoy the sociable atmosphere of the third class lounge or have a grandstand view of the frantic pace of the telegraph office and the intense heat of the engine rooms. Learn about some of the main characters involved in the real events – a family emigrating to escape poverty, the distress of a respected Captain at the end of a long and successful career, the guilt of the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews and the bravery of the telegraph boys who refused to leave their station as they continued to plead for rescue.

From the moment when the iceberg is first spotted, the inexorable momentum of the events drives the narrative. Witness passengers wasting time as they deny that anything is wrong, watch the lifeboat debacle and see the struggle of the third class passengers to escape. Listen to the musicians as they go down with the ship and the eerie silence after Titanic breaks her back and slips below the waves. Finally, bid farewell to Sam as he, together with the many others who died, pass on to another life.

All the main facts of the Titanic, including the many reasons suggested for the accident, are woven into a text which is rich in detail and results from careful research.  Although fact and fiction are combined, the narrative flows smoothly and with considerable pace. It would be a valuable addition to a school Titanic project or for any competent reader who loves historical fiction in general and the Titanic in particular.

 

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