Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Along The Watchtower

by David Litwack

cover  

Along The Watchtower is a story split between two very different worlds. In one, Freddie is an injured veteran of the Iraq conflict, struggling to rebuild his body and his life. In the other, Prince Frederick is the heroic defender of his medieval magic kingdom. If the prince can't navigate his way past a series of trials, demonic hordes will overrun his realm and everything will be lost.

The fantasy world is something Freddie reaches in his dreams, although unlike regular dreams they're very specific and allegorical, rather than the usual confused jumble of pantless shopping trips, despotic penguins, and impossible exams run by evil gerbils, that most people experience. It's so detailed I found myself wondering whether Freddie would end up in the dream world rather than this one. The fantasy world features Rebecca, a gentle gardener, whilst in the real world Becky is his physical therapist, and she's also into plants. The parallels between the two realities aren't subtle. Freddie was a keen Warcraft player before his injury, and the fantasy world is quite similar. It has elves, swords, and demons, and everyone talks in an over-formal way that hints of a bygone time that never existed. There's a lot of forelock-tugging deference to Frederick just because he's royal.

The fantasy world adopts the speech patterns and styles of a lot of epic fantasy, but not in a mocking way. I felt this side of the story was quite unimaginative, and was actually the weaker half of the narrative. It's a fairly stock world, and because it echoes the real world there's less mystery about what will happen in it.

The story's main strengths are in the portrayal of Freddie's slow and difficult rehabilitation. He's consumed with guilt about the loss of his squad members, and he also has a troubled past with a lot of family tragedy. His memory is imperfect, so as he fights to heal his leg he's got other issues to work through as well. To begin with he can't even go into a room without checking it for insurgents, for instance. Then there's the question of what happened to the rest of his family.

The realistic side of Along The Watchtower is its best aspect. It's a believable portrait of grief, despair, and recovery. It's quite a slow-building story that gives readers plenty of time to get to know the main characters. I found these very likeable, and I was rooting for Freddie throughout. The plot is somewhat obvious, and I would have liked more things to have happened. However, the story has some satisfying moments of sweetness and poignancy.

26th July 2013

Book Details

Year: 2013

Categories: Books

  Fantasy
    Male Protagonist  

If you like this, try:

Control Point cover    

Control Point by Myke Cole
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A Sorcerers Treason (Isavalta Trilogy) cover    

A Sorcerers Treason (Isavalta Trilogy) by Sarah Zettel
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3 star rating

Review ©

Comments

Tallulah A.     27th July, 2013 06:02am

The real life side of Along the Watchtower was better than I expected. I could really sympathize with Freddie's struggle.

I was a little disappointed by the fantasy side of the story. Especially Frederick's ending. I was expecting the trials to be more complex as time ran out. I felt like his story was resolved rather abruptly.

I am going to check out your suggestions - Control Point and A Sorcerers Treason.

Ros Jackson     27th July, 2013 23:08pm

Thanks for your comment, Tallulah. I agree that Frederick's trials seemed to be priming us to expect something more complex and demanding by the end.

Control Point and A Sorcerer's Treason are both what I'd consider portal fantasies, but they're quite different in style from each other. With Control Point there's the military connection as well, and it's pretty well-researched in terms of the military jargon. Whereas the Isavalta books are more about the escapism of moving from a version of the real world a few hundred years ago, to something that is more like a fairytale magic kingdom, albeit a vicious one.

Emlyn Chand     28th July, 2013 18:12pm

Great and insightful review, Ros. I, too, always prefer realistic fiction to fantasy, but loved how these two stories were blended so seamlessly. Thank you for joining us on this tour, and please take a quick moment to cross-post your review to Amazon and GoodReads--both places are huge for helping great books gain exposure.

Emlyn :-)

Ros Jackson     28th July, 2013 21:53pm

Thanks, Emlyn. I've left a rating on Goodreads, but I don't do Amazon. They have some peculiar rules about authors reviewing other authors, for one thing.

I wouldn't say I prefer realistic fiction, far from it. But I do prefer realistic, believable characters, and that's where I think David Litwack has succeeded in this novel. It's not that the realistic side is more believable because it's our world, it's because everything from the characters' speech patterns to their inner lives is much better observed in that part of the story.

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