An epistolary fantasy novel tells the story of a budding romance quickly placed under supernatural pressures.
Sailor Zebediah Beck meets fighter pilot Tom Caul on the USS Fanning, which is heading home now that World War I has ended. After Zeb assists the seasick Tom, the two share a bunk—though, unlike other men that Zeb has palled around with, his new friend merely sleeps in his arms. The two assume they will part ways when the ship docks, but the aristocratic Tom decides he enjoys farm boy Zeb’s company, even if they make an unlikely pair. After a disastrous stay with Zeb’s family in rural southwest Pennsylvania, and despite Tom’s inclinations, the two go to Tom’s stately home outside Pittsburgh: Prouwder House. Tom’s extended family has gathered for a convocation—incomprehensible to Zeb—to select new members to take up “the Work,” a mysterious duty that preserves the clan’s fortune even as it seems to kill or maim those who perform it. Tom and Zeb finally act on their impulses only to discover the next morning that it is they who have been chosen to do the Work, which entails responding to ethereal screams by leaping through passages in Prouwder House that transport them across the world. These rescue missions take them to a burning building in Chicago, a man hanging from the side of a dirigible in Italy, and imprisoned Jews in Poland. Will Zeb forgive Tom for pressing him into this dangerous service? Will they even make it out alive? The story is presented as alternating entries in the diaries of both men, whose distinct voices Baysinger (Brother-Out-Law, 2018, etc.) admirably renders. The blue-blooded Tom is precise and literary even when complaining of seasickness: “Poseidon take me and this whole damned destroyer, only end my suffering!” Zeb writes in his own rough-hewn vernacular: “He was worse off for a while, but I taught him to keep his eye on the horizon and that helped. We’ve been tradin’ war stories.” Fantasy fans should appreciate the depth the author gives the characters. In truth, the speculative element is far less intriguing than the simple fact of two men from different worlds documenting an illicit relationship in dueling diaries.
An original tale about selfish love and selfless work.