Review: Titanic trilogy by Gordon Korman

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Review: Titanic trilogy by Gordon Korman

Postby Captain ACS » Thu Jan 05, 2017 6:44 am

This is another review my youngest brother has written specifically for this site. His recent revisit to the Branson museum has rekindled his interest in everything Titanic, and he noted in the end of the linked review that he would review this trilogy.

Well, without further ado...

HUZZAH! I told you I would come back for more.

This time, we're taking a look at a historical fiction trilogy written by Gordon Korman. For those of you reading, a little background on the author is necessary: Gordon Korman is an established Canadian writer of juvenile fiction, Macdonald Hall being one of his most noted works. This had me a little suspicious the first time I picked this trilogy up, as I had heard his name before, and thought this was just going to be another exploitation of the Titanic disaster.

I was so wrong.

I should note straight out of the gate that this is, cover to cover, an action story of shorts, meant to appeal to a younger audience such as myself (I was 13 when I first read this). The plot moves by at quite the pace.

**QUICK NOTE: Before we get into this review, I should also point out that I'm only halfway through this story, so there's going to be a second part to this review later on. Oh well.


The story is centered around four young passengers on the Titanic, all with their own unique story to tell. They're as follows:

Patrick "Paddy" Burns - A street waif from Belfast. Ends up as an accidental stowaway on the Titanic after narrowly escaping an encounter with a prominent mobster.
Alfie Huggins - A junior steward from Southampton who lies about his age to get the job, so as to be able to sail with his father, John Huggins, one of the Titanic's stokers.
Sophie Bronson - The daughter of an extremely hammy American suffragist, being deported back to the United States for purposefully causing trouble in Southampton. Her mother is an obvious expy of the famed Molly Brown.
Juliana Glamm - Daughter of Rodney Glamm, the eccentric yet wasteful 17th Earl of Glamford. Bound to New York for Rodney's alleged "business matters."

Right out of the first page, we're introduced to Paddy and his partner-in-crime, Daniel Sullivan, a pair of trickster pickpockets scraping by through constantly robbing bypassers on Victoria Street. They apparently met during the Titanic's first sliding-out. The two escape from one robbery, then move onto another, only to realize their target is none other than Thomas Andrews, who talks to them and challenges Daniel to come up with a theory as to how the Titanic could possibly sink. Soon after, Paddy is busted trying to spend their previous catch, realizing they stole from Kevin Gilhooley, the brother of Belfast's most notorious gangster. In the ensuing chase, Paddy ends up being crane-loaded onto the Titanic, and Daniel is (apparently) killed.

On the trip from Belfast to Southampton, the Titanic is visited overhead by Rodney Glamm, the 17th Earl of Glamford, and his daughter Juliana, in a rustic biplane. Rodney is dedicated to buzzing the ship as closely as he can and not die.

Meanwhile in Southampton, Amelia and Sophie Bronson are arrested and jailed for a night for Amelia's intentional disruption of Southampton traffic in an attempt to stir up trouble over suffrage protests. They're then forcibly deported back to the US for their troubles. Also in Southampton, Alfie Huggins meets his dad in boarding, having gotten the job. The Glamm clan also boards here.

From here on out, the story gets complicated. Our four main characters finally meet each other, Paddy has to constantly escape being exposed as a stowaway (posing as a steward, as a steerage passenger, hiding in a suitcase, you name it), and by the time the journey reaches Queenstown, Kevin Gilhooley and his right-hand man board as second-class passengers, doubling the threat. As if this wasn't strenuous enough, the four also make a terrible discovery: one of the first-class passengers, a paraplegic by the name of Mr. Masterson, is revealed to be - I kid you not on this - Jack the Ripper.

This isn't even counting a number of other smaller subplots going on concurrently. To say this trilogy has a lot going on is an understatement, and it really takes a lot of attention to take in accurately.

For another matter, the portrayal of the real life characters is somewhat zig-zagged. Almost every encounter Paddy or Alfie has with an officer is a risky one, for different reasons. For example, near the end of the first book, Paddy has a brief encounter with Second Officer Lightoller, who ends up being painted as a villain due to the circumstances, where he begins to uncover Paddy's real status on the ship. On top of this, the other crewmen are portrayed as being quite unkind. There's one bit where Alfie has to deliver one of Masterson's messages to the Marconi room to be telegrammed. Harold Bride is quite unkind in frustration over the massive backlog of messages the two were having to send, while Jack Phillips is more neutral. Thomas Andrews may be the one big exception here; even when he makes a round into the boiler rooms and mistakes Paddy for a deckhand slacking off, Andrews forgives him, understanding that people need breaks in such an environment.

Overall, this is one heck of a read. I'm quite anxious to finish it off, whereupon I'll come back to this thread and write a more in-depth opinion piece on the entire experience.

Until then...

-Will "Madcatter" Allen

I'm a 27-year-old Mississippi River lover who spends his spare time playing country & rock music. Not much else to say.
Captain ACS
Posts: 272
Joined: Tue Jun 28, 2011 7:29 am
Location: Hammond, LA

Re: Review: Titanic trilogy by Gordon Korman

Postby VW1956 » Thu Jan 05, 2017 4:56 pm

Hello Captin ACS. Is this part of the trilogy which includes "Unsinkable". "Collision course" and "SOS"?
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Joined: Tue Jun 28, 2011 6:47 am
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Re: Review: Titanic trilogy by Gordon Korman

Postby Captain ACS » Thu Jan 05, 2017 7:47 pm

It is, indeed. This review is for Unsinkable and the first half of Collision Course.
-Will "Madcatter" Allen

I'm a 27-year-old Mississippi River lover who spends his spare time playing country & rock music. Not much else to say.
Captain ACS
Posts: 272
Joined: Tue Jun 28, 2011 7:29 am
Location: Hammond, LA

Re: Review: Titanic trilogy by Gordon Korman

Postby Captain ACS » Sat Jan 14, 2017 5:59 am

The rest is now here.

Well, once again, I'm back to breaking down this story. This is part 2 of 3 of my analysis, as the third part will be dedicated exclusively to the third book, SOS. This part will be for the remainder of Collision Course, allowing me to go more in depth on the plot.

Anyway, where did I leave off? Oh, right: It's pretty fast-paced.

I'm gonna start by explaining the plot from this point forward. When we last left off, I was roughly halfway through the second book, Collision Course. By this point, Paddy having to elude capture by someone has practically become a running gag. This time, he got himself stuck in the anchor chain shaft, of all things. After waiting quite a while (overnight? it's not quite clear), he manages to escape into the firemen's quarters, and encounters Alfie's father there, narrowly escaping being exposed.

Just before this event, Paddy, Sophie, and Juliana (the latter two of whom, mind you, are first-class passengers) venture into third-class territory (gee, does THAT sound familiar?) and, for whatever reason, decide to join a massive dance party on deck to an Irish jig. Unfortunately for them, the good old Earl of Glamford notices his daughter among the crowd. Enraged, he ends up face to face with 2nd Officer Lightoller, who's still on the hunt for the stowaway Paddy. It's this event that results in Paddy getting into the above predicament with the anchor chain shaft, so on and so forth.

While Paddy is liberating himself from the anchor chain, Rodney Glamm is interrogating Juliana over her stunt in third class. This is where we find out what Rodney's "financial affairs" in America really entail: having Juliana arrange-married to his business partner from Texas, in a last-ditch attempt to pay for his massive gambling debts and expensive lifestyle. Juliana attempts to find Paddy and discuss this news with him, but once again, we get Officer Lightoller on the hunt. This time, he trails Juliana, and we can all guess what happens next: Paddy's capture by Lightoller.

One thing that happened in my review intermission? Kevin Gilhooley and Seamus were also put in the brig for attempting to throw Paddy overboard. When he's captured, they try to get him in the same cell for obvious reasons. Lightoller and master-at-arms Tom King aren't having that - once again, we get another glimpse of Lightoller as the antagonist, stating he wants Paddy to go unharmed just to get a chance to interrogate him.

Concurrently with the news of the above breaking to the other main characters, Sophie has allowed herself to be fooled into meeting another first-class passenger, Mr. Masterson, on the foredeck late at night.

Now, hold on a second. Who's Mr. Masterson, you may be asking?
In a nutshell: a paraplegic. You'll find out his purpose soon enough.

Sophie has determined to make Mr. Masterson into her project, not wanting to see him act like an angry old man all the time. She's thought that being kind to him will help him do the same in return. Well, it doesn't go to plan.

Remember when I said Jack the Ripper was in this story? Well...

Jack the Ripper's introduction in the first book is the four main characters discovering a scrapbook full of media relating to him, as well as some "artifacts" (to wit: several teeth in a box). The corresponding luggage for this scrapbook is tagged for room A-17, leading us to believe that whoever is in room A-17 is the one and only Jack the Ripper.

Mr. Masterson is in A-17.

Sophie had questioned Masterson earlier this day regarding the scrapbook, to which he proposed this meeting. When she brings it up again, Masterson finally reveals himself and attempts to kill Sophie for fear she would expose him. Then comes the deus ex machina, the event everyone knew would come in this story: the iceberg impact. These two being on the foredeck, a stray block of ice knocks Masterson off his feet long enough for Sophie (and newcomer-to-this-incident Alfie) to somehow survive.

And, of course, it's all downhill from here.

The remaining three main characters, realizing pretty early on the ship was taking water (due in part to Alfie going to the boiler rooms and seeing it for himself), decide to get Paddy out of the brig to safety. At first, Paddy leaves Gilhooley and Seamus for dead, but soon decides to go back and attempt to free them ("they deserve to die, but not like this, not penned up like rats in a cage").

That's Part 2, the summation of Collision Course part 2, wrapped up. Tune in next time for the final book, SOS, and my overall thoughts on this trilogy. I may also do a character analysis.

Hello, procrastinators! And welcome to the hyper-anticipated...Ugh, I can't do it. To hell with an intro. This is the last part of my review. And since it is the last part, I'll be splitting it into two pieces: one for explaining the plot, and another for my final opinion.

(Also, I'm listening to Sea of Heartbreak by Angel Vivaldi while writing this, and not just to make a pun out of it.)

*cracks knuckles, takes deep breath*


This one opens with a view from the perspective of the crew of the Californian. Though it's pretty brief, it states that the Californian was not receiving any of the Titanic's emergency telegrams.

Back on the Titanic, our main crew are racing aft to escape the overflow in the bow. Along the way, Alfie, as a steward, is obligated to notify people to don their life jackets and get outside as a "precaution."

Meanwhile on the Carpathia, a young passenger, 14-year-old Drazen Curcovic, is allowed by wireless operator Harold Cottam to use the wireless set for a few minutes. Drazen is unlucky enough to pick up a distress signal - "CQD MQY."

Once they get clear of that mess, Alfie, Sophie, and Juliana decide to attempt to get their respective parents to safety. Unfortunately, none of them go to plan. John Huggins sadly opts to stay behind and continue to work the boilers, in an honorable effort to keep the ship's electricity running as long as possible ("as long as you see the lights, you'll know that's me"). Rodney Glamm, finally winning one of his godforsaken gambling rounds, sees no valid reason to leave, probably too drunk to notice what's happening around him. Amelia Bronson (yeah, you remember? The parody of Molly Brown?) adamantly refuses to be helped by the crew, relentlessly accusing them of being sexist for enforcing the women and children first practice. Amelia is the only exception to this tragic turn; Sophie ends up tricking her into stumbling into a lifeboat.

At the same time, Paddy, having a family to thank for protecting him, makes his way to steerage, only to find they've been corralled below decks. Even though the crew point him out as the stowaway, by this point, it's pointless. A wave of Irish pride/English hatred allows Paddy to rally a group of steerage passengers into making their own way to the boat deck, including breaking through the Verandah Cafe.

Back on the Californian, lookout James Gibson is seeing the Titanic launching flares, but simply believes it to be them having a massive party, not a distress signal. He does pick up on the distress signal shortly, and informs Third Officer Groves, who in turn informs Captain Lord. Lord orders them to signal the Titanic via Morse lamp. Nothing happens, obviously.

Oh, and since Paddy being the stowaway is now old news, the new running gag is Alfie being ambushed by Jack the Ripper. I should point that out.

Paddy, in the process of leading his own Irish platoon out of the lower decks, encounters an abandoned child, and takes her to the boat deck in an attempt to secure a lifeboat spot. He transfers care to Juliana, who does miraculously get a seat on a lifeboat.

On the Carpathia, we're introduced to Captain Rostron, who's now in the process of essentially becoming Steve McCroskey from "Airplane!", issuing orders to his crew left and right. Divert all steam to engines, ready lifeboats, prepare food, the list goes on.

And from here is where the story gets really ridiculous. How do our remaining three heroes survive now? Well, glossing over a good bit, here's how it plays out.

Alfie rides the stern of the ship all the way down, in the exact same way as chief baker Joughin allegedly did in real life. He finds a floating cupboard and turns it into a makeshift raft, but in a continuation of the aforementioned running gag, Masterson climbs aboard as well. He can't cause a fight without running the risk of capsizing the shelf and drowning both of them.

Sophie accompanies Officer Lightoller and other crewmen in an attempt to deploy Collapsible B. Of course, we know how well that worked in reality: it tumbles over the flimsy ramp and lands upside down on deck. Paddy joins the group, and is nearly shot by Lightoller out of spite, before all of them are scooped off of the deck into the sea along with the collapsible. Sophie frantically clings to the foremast, still above the surface. Paddy ends up being forced underwater by a runaway ventilator on the foredeck, then blasted back out by a burst of steam from a swamped boiler. Paddy then ends up with the party crowding over Collapsible B. Lightoller is now acting as all but a drill sergeant, giving very specific demands to everyone in the group, telling them to shift their weight around on top of the boat to balance the collapsible, keeping the air pocket trapped underneath from shrinking and thus keeping it afloat.

Of course, Sophie eventually gets rejected from the foremast, and ends up climbing in the cupboard with Masterson and Alfie. Masterson, being stubborn, attempts to kill her once again, only for Alfie to crack a jar over his head and kick him out of the "raft." Within time, Alfie begins to suffer from symptoms of hypothermia, being soaked. The trouble begins.

By the time the Carpathia arrives on scene, Collapsible B is submerged, with everyone on top being knee-deep in the ice water. One of Carpathia's lifeboats is dispatched to pick them up. Juliana is taken aboard as a Titanic lifeboat passenger. Alfie and Sophie, on the other hand, struggle to get up the rope ladder onto Carpathia. Sophie manages the climb, but Alfie, suffering from unimaginable frostbite by now, slips from the rope ladder and crashes back into the cupboard, dying as a result.

Never forget.

When the Carpathia finally reaches New York, it first pulls into the White Star dock to drop off Titanic's lifeboats, then retreats back to the Cunard pier. Juliana and Sophie disembark together, along with the child Paddy had saved from Titanic's steerage. Paddy himself, true to being the stowaway, hid in the lifeboats as the Carpathia left them at the White Star pier.

Paddy found trouble even after escaping the shipping nightmare in the form of Kevin Gilhooley and Seamus, still tailing him. Although he's now found opportunities to work all around New York, he goes between jobs hoping to avoid the two. Eventually, they finally catch him...only for them to reveal that they just want to talk. And that's not all. Guess who's along for the ride?

Daniel Sullivan, Paddy's old friend from Belfast, who we were led to believe was killed early on in the story. For the duration of the story, he had been forced into borderline slave labor by James Gilhooley back in Belfast, but now he's released as a "thank you" from the Gilhooleys for saving Kevin's life on the Titanic.

Holy crap, was that all a doozy to take in.


I can now say that my initial perception for this book was flat out wrong. Gordon Korman has outdone himself here, in my opinion.

I can say that this trilogy is in the vein of the 1997 movie, albeit with a very thick plot that isn't a two-hour snore. Like with the Branson museum (Branson, Bronson, is there anything else I need to be familiar with here), it even taught me some facts I didn't know before checking it out, such as Lightoller's method of keeping Collapsible B afloat.

My one true complaint with this trilogy is its portrayal of the real-life characters, notably the higher-ranking crewmen. Lightoller is all but the main "villain" of the story as the main man scouting Paddy out (with the attempt at shooting him during the sinking to boot), and on top of this, he's constantly portrayed as a no-nonsense, draconian leader - how accurate this is is up for debate. J. Bruce Ismay is painted as a greedy businessman (not unlike the Deepwater Horizon movie did to BP overseers Don Vidrine and Bob Kaluza), pushing for Captain Smith to order all of the boilers to be lit, just to be able to arrive early in NYC and make the headlines. Even Captain Smith isn't immune to this bit of possible artistic license: while not at all malicious, he's shown as being a bit dulled toward what other people say, and understandably so. There's also Harold Bride and Jack Phillips; when Alfie brings the two a Marconigram from Masterson to be sent, Bride makes a very offhanded remark back at Alfie for saying Masterson would be unhappy if the message wasn't sent. Phillips simply explains the entire backlogging situation to Alfie regarding equipment failure in an exhausted manner, sort of in contrast to his infamous "shut up, I am working Cape Race" line.

The bottom line? As this is going to the Titanic-Titanic forum, here's a message specifically for you guys: if you have kids, and they're interested in Titanic media, by God, get them this trilogy. It is simply spectacular, if tough to keep up with at points.

Final score: 8.5/10
-Will "Madcatter" Allen

I'm a 27-year-old Mississippi River lover who spends his spare time playing country & rock music. Not much else to say.
Captain ACS
Posts: 272
Joined: Tue Jun 28, 2011 7:29 am
Location: Hammond, LA

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