Black Out begins in a future Oxford where the Director is suddenly moving everyone's assignments around and no one knows why. The main characters are Merope, who goes by Eileen, Mike, and Polly, all traveling separately back to WWII, England. Eileen to observe war orphans, Polly to observe shelters and tubes, and Mike to Dunkirk. Once they get there, however, they discover that their drops (their way back home) are no longer functioning. This leads them to find one another to try to discover what's gone wrong, because the history they thought they knew is not exactly the one they're experiencing. This causes Polly and Mike in particular to believe that in addition to not being able to get home, somehow they may have changed history.
All Clear is Black Out's sequel.
I'll start with my single criticism. It's one I often have for 'big' authors (Stephen King I'm looking at you). Too many words! Both of these books are fairly long by today's standards, and I feel pretty certain the story could've been condensed, which probably would've upped the tension.
However. I enjoyed every single word. Connie Willis won the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo awards for these novels and there's good reason for that. First, she knows how to write well. Like, really well. Second, I can only imagine the sort of chart she must've employed to keep all the time lines straight but she did a masterful job. Third and last is the research that went into these two stories, which primarily take place during WWII.
Sure, I knew the Brits had a tough time of it during the war, I'd heard of children being sent away to the country side (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe come to mind), and I'd seen some movies depicting the London blitz. But really, I had no clue. Connie Willis immersed me in that time period more than anything I've seen or read. Her attention to all those details that make a place feel real is on full display, and the dialogue is some of the best I've seen. As someone who majored in history, I adored these books, and they gave me a new appreciation of what the Brits went through and how much everyone sacrificed, rich and poor alike.
Finally, I have to mention the orphans, Binnie and Alf, the most awful children you could imagine, who have an interesting part to play. They were horrible and I loved them!