Would you believe someone if they told you they were a time traveler? Probably not, you are not that trusting of a soul. You would require some proof. What could they say or do to convince you that they are the real deal? But wait, why is it so important that you believe them? What do they want from you?
A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor by Robert G. Pielke begins when a stranger carrying a shiny, metallic valise steps aboard a train carrying a young Abraham Lincoln going home from a two year stint in Congress. He is dressed oddly and has an unusual request of Lincoln. He asks Lincoln to be his attorney and to remain on retainer...for 14 years. Time flies by and Lincoln, now President of a divided nation, meets the stranger again who goes by the name of Edwin Blair.
He proceeds to inform Lincoln and his closest advisers that he is a time traveler and he is here to save the world. He does not need much, just the Army of the Potomac, on the verge of fighting Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, to be in a certain place at a certain time to fight one of the greatest threats to humanity.
Oops, I almost forgot. He also needs Lee and the Confederates to cooperate as well. Piece of cake really.
A New Birth of Freedom was a good read. The book is definitely dialogue driven, much like The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell. The period dialogue and Edwin's clumsy attempts to emulate it were fun to read. Pielke also does a good job of making a plausible presentation of Civil War America and more importantly avoids common time travel tropes that are found in alternate history.
How so? First, Blair isn't some bumbling fool who got sent back in time by accident. He has a well-thought out plan that has been carried out over a period of decades and will come to fruition on the bloody fields of Gettysburg. Second, and most refreshing, is the fact that the historical characters that Blair meets are not dumb barbarians overly-impressed by Blair's "magic". They have imaginations too and sometimes prove morally superior when Blair succumbs to his darker aspects.
Of course there is the issue of the butterfly effect, which seems to have been suspended. I will withhold judgment, however, since how time travel works in the novel is not sufficiently explained and will likely be expanded upon in the sequels. I am starting to learn that you should not always assume the author screwed up and there could be more to the story in later volumes. Sometimes you need to sit back and give the author the benefit of the doubt.
Nevertheless there were three major issues which prevented me from giving this novel a better grade. One, the length. The novel is just over 200 pages long, including a few sketches. It is a very short read. Two, you can only buy the novel in paperback, which is annoying for e-book fans like me. Three, typos. At first I was worried when I started reading this book and noticed there was an error in the first sentence of the introduction. Thankfully, however, there were not enough errors to completely ruin the novel.
A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor is a worthwhile read. Hopefully the sequels will correct the flaws of the original and create an excellent time travel series.
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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a volunteer editor for the Alt Hist magazine and a contributor to Just Below the Law. One of his short stories will be published in the upcoming Echelon Press anthology, Once Upon a Clockwork Tale (2013). When not writing he works as an attorney in the state of Illinois and enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana.