Review: Dark Clouds of the Morning, by Janet C. Burrill

Dark Clouds of the Morning, by Janet C. Burrill (Word Alive Press, 2011)

It’s 1917, and World War 1 is raging. The residents of the port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast, fear for the lives of their loved ones serving overseas. They never dream they’re about to experience a disaster that will level part of their city and be felt in tremors hundreds of miles away.

On a clear December morning, two ships collide in the bustling harbour. One, the Mont Blanc, is loaded with explosives. The Halifax Explosion will be “the largest man-made disaster until the atomic age.” [From the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic site.]

Sadly, the explosion is fact. Dark Clouds of the Morning is fiction, the story of Jennie Grayson, and her extended family, as the disaster overthrows their regular lives—and as they struggle to cope with the tragedy.

Jennie is a young woman working a factory job during the war, hoping to resume nursing studies when the soldiers come home. Her father, two brothers and fiancé Carl are all serving in Europe. Jennie’s mother, Helen, disapproves of Carl, and this causes strife at home.

Bert Powell is a young Boston physician who eagerly joins the disaster relief train to bring medical support to the survivors—and who is desperate for news of his grandmother, who lives in the shattered city. His grandmother, Pearl, is alive and well, and Bert is delighted to meet the young woman who’s staying with her after her own home was flattened: Jennie.

Plenty of books have been written about the Halifax Explosion, but this may be the first novel from a Christian perspective. Meticulously researched, it brings out tidbits I hadn’t known despite living in the area all my life.

The novel is written in a gentle, older style than is common today, and it lends a realistic feel for the time period. Terms like nappy (diaper), shirtwaist and middy (types of ladies’ tops) are used, but their meaning is always clear by their context.

Lovers of early 1900-s era history will appreciate this novel, and I think older seniors will especially enjoy it. Readers of any age who like heart-warming dramatic stories with a touch of romance will be satisfied.

The one flaw in the reading experience is the editing. Ordinarily with a self-published book, this suggests an author who hasn’t purchased the publisher’s editing service. In this case, the acknowledgements clearly thank the Word Alive editor for his work.

Most of the issues are simple copy-editing mistakes: punctuation errors or the occasional wrong word (eg. cherry instead of cheery). Good editing would have also addressed the author’s occasional re-telling of details readers have already learned.

The story still flows well, and it’s an inviting read. Canadian author Janet C. Burrill writes with sensitivity and grace, and with compassion for her suffering characters. She also paints detailed word pictures of the era’s decor and customs. Two of her descriptions that struck me most were “smokestacks snapped like carrots (p. 48)” and a pastor’s prayer for the sorrowing that ends with “In the name of your Son who understood grief (p. 123).”

Dark Clouds of the Morning is Janet C. Burrill’s debut novel, and she’s now at work on a sequel. Copies are available on Amazon.ca. Signed copies are available through the Dark Clouds of the Morning website for $20 Canadian plus shipping.

[Review copy from my personal library. Disclosure: The author is a personal friend.]


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