A rousing what-if look at a decidedly different America persuasively stuck in a historical past.



A modern-day college freshman mysteriously teleports to a semi-savage, alternate-universe North America—during a period that closely resembles Colonial times—where he reluctantly participates in military campaigns and rebellions.

Hal Christianson, 18, from White Plains, New York, is a 2016 American college freshman stranded in a cave on a dark and stormy night after a party. He literally falls into an alternative North America—the same place, in 2016, but now a semi-wild country, where Colonial-era levels of technology, values, and power struggles prevail. A friendly “woodsranger” explains, conveniently, the backstory. The American Revolution never happened. Instead, an extinction-level plague swept 17th-century Europe, sending boatloads of refugees bearing remnants of their rival imperial cultures—English, Dutch, French, and Spanish—to the New World. They wage war with one another over territorial domination in between truces and trading alliances. Hal (fortunately, a member of a school fencing team) adapts to this new abnormal with some finesse and a bit of luck that earn him a useful but reluctant reputation as a serious fighter. He accompanies a Swedish merchant expedition (actually a cover for gunrunning) to Nieuw Amsterdam—the island city fort that should have been New York—on faint hints that somebody there might comprehend his predicament and know how to send him back to his rightful world. Meanwhile, Hal stumbles into intrigues, romance, and an incipient insurgency. There are ingredients for a YA swashbuckler in this smart, energetic alternative-history opus from pseudonymous author Alexander (Lady of Ice and Fire, 1995). But between the sex, swearing, and gore, the lively antics remain consistently R-rated. Alexander succinctly sketches details of this brutal, archaic milieu, mainly in terms of military troop movements and command virtues (or lack thereof). Further subtleties of this class-bound alternate America tend to be marginalized or only inferred. Native Americans are remote “savages”; people of color only appear low in the ranks of the Dutch; Massachusetts Puritans have the continent’s only democratic government but are otherwise distant, religious-fanatic menaces. Still, the pace and action never let up. Adventurous readers should find themselves acclimating to this raw, rustic, rough-and-tumble environment just as the plucky teenage protagonist does.

A rousing what-if look at a decidedly different America persuasively stuck in a historical past.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2017


Page Count: 364

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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