Book Review: “The Sea Shall Embrace Them”

So sorry for the delay in releasing this week’s book review. My family (husband and two children) and I spent our entire day (16 hours) in the car, making our way from my in-laws in Arkansas to our home in coastal North Carolina. It was a long drive, but we’re home safe, and ready to get the holiday season kicked off properly by putting up all our holiday decorations this afternoon.

This week was challenging for me to get all my reading done. Not only did I have a novel’s worth of reading for this challenge, I had a novel to read for my 17th and 18th Century British Literature course, Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews. I could very well have “doubled up” again this week (and would have if I knew a month ago what I know now), because Joseph Andrews was not only a story of a young man traveling from the busy city of London to a home in the countryside, but a coming of age story (which is travel in it’s most important form). 

Without further ado…

This week, the final of the November “Month of Travel” reading, and the 13th book of our challenge, we tackled David W. Shaw’s historical novel The Sea Shall Embrace Them: The Tragic Story of the Steamship Arctic.

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This novel came as a recommendation from my stepfather (hi Grant!) for my husband (the man-boy who doesn’t read… at all). It’s a dramatized telling of a very true story that takes place in 1854, and tells of the tragic collision between two steamships. Shaw and the reader follow the steamship Arctic from its beginning to its destruction, and tells a harrowing tale of the lives lost in the cold Atlantic ocean.

What a sad, sad story! It is truly heart wrenching to read this story. Shaw introduces a cast of characters who were easy to relate with, and hard to say goodbye to. I found myself having moments of anxiety, sorrow, shock and heartbreak while reading this story! Much like watching Titanic, this book tells of a massive destruction and really puts into perspective the loss of life – and how so many people can come to a watery grave in a matter of hours.

I found it shocking to read about the death toll – 400 people were killed in hours, plunged into the cold sea, or dragged down by the sinking ship. Of the survivors (86 in total) only 33 were passengers, and not one woman or child made their way onto the lifeboats. It was so sad to read about men – sailors at that – pushing women and children out of the way (and into the water) to gain a spot in the lifeboat. The resolute Captain Lace fought for the women and children, but was overcome by the desperation of the crew.

While the story was terrific, the writing was brilliant! Shaw really sucks you into the story, making his characters seem like people you have always known, and making the setting feel like you’re there along side the captain, crew and passengers. Shaw did spend a bit of time in the first quarter of the book describing the history of steamships, the Collins line (the company that owned the Arctic) as well as the history of the captain and the ship herself. I felt this was all pretty unnecessary to the story, but it provided a good foundation for the reader to build upon and truly understand the massive devastation the collision caused on both a personal and business level.

I really enjoyed this book, and found the roller coaster of emotions were heightened by the realization of “This story is true! These people all experienced the fear and anxiety and acceptance of their fates!” How terrifying! I am hoping I can convince my husband to pick it up at some point – like me, he is a fan of history, and nautical and military history are his areas of interest.

Did you enjoy the book? What part did you find particularly interesting?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Book Review: “The Sea Shall Embrace Them”

  1. kathleen

    Hi, I finally finished The Sea shall Embrace them. What a wild and tragic story. I found the nautical information mildly interesting. The book got me after the collision. I couldn’t stop reading because I was so worried about all those passengers. Wow, that poor captain and all those helpless people. It was so frightening. It was a very good book but now I am afraid to take a passenger ferry!!!!

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