I haven’t done a book review before and certainly, this ain’t one. See, I have a peculiar relationship with this book and its author, as I was there bearing witness of its creation, the pains of editing, the search for a publisher and even the cover design travails. This book is like a nephew for me as I have the honor of calling his author, Brent A. Harris my friend. It
I have known Brent for the past decade since he and Leo McBride (pen name of my friend Stephen Hunt) made a habit of kicking my ass in Heroclix. With both of them, we created Inklings Press with the aim of polishing our craft as writers through short stories so one day we were ready to share our personal projects, out full-length novels with the world. That day is today for Brent.
A Time of Need, published by Insomnia, is an alternate history tale of the American Revolution. To put you in context of its quality, Brent was nominated this year for a Sidewise Award for the story ‘Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon‘ -of which I’m the coauthor, so yes I’m a nominated author as well-. This put us in the company of alternate history luminaries such as Bruce Sterling, Ken Liu and Kim Stanley Robinson. So yeah, when it comes to alternate history, Brent knows what he talking about. That kind of nomination is not given freely. You pay the iron price for it.
And he also knows enough of the American Revolution as to spin a tale of switched allegiances, unbridled ambition, and regrets that will make you look at that person in US history with a different look. I admit I’m not an expert on the time period, but that didn’t detract me from enjoying the book.
Yes, Washington and Arnold are greater than life figures that loom over the birth of a nation. And Brent does a sterling job humanizing them, giving them rational motivations for the decisions that in this flipped story changed the course of the conflict. But I believe that where he does his best is when he shows us the gritty face of war through the eyes of “secondary” characters. I quote unquote secondary because I think Stevens, one of the POV characters is as much better, more relatable one. It’s through his eyes that we see the struggles of the soldier to navigate an uncertain future while the big men take life and death decisions. It’s through his eyes that we see how history unfolds.
Now while I kinda subscribe to the ‘Great Men’ history outlook of some historians -as it makes easier to understand history- the reality and the more interesting part of the unfolding of history is to consider how the regular people faced it. History is not a fossil but a living thing created each day. And is this that Brent truly excels.
There is nuance, action, betrayal and passion, elements that make any novelization of history -real or alternate- a treat for the reader and the seed for a good tv drama *wink wink tv producers*.
It is frightening for an author, for any creator really, to release their baby for the first time into the wider world. If I were in Brent’s shoes I would be a mess, then again I’m anxious all the time. So dear reader, make us a small favor and support a new author. If you are an alternate history fan or a US history fan or even a Brent A. Harris fan -if those exist yet- then give A Time of Need a bit of your reading time.
Meanwhile, I will be bidding my time till I can kick Brent’s ass at Heroclix once and for all.