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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Dr, Wesley Britton Reviews Historical Novel

The Angel Strikes
Series: Volume 1 of The Brandt Family Chronicles
Subtitle: The Napoleonic Wars
Author: Oliver Fairfax
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2 edition (September 10, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1530995760
ISBN-13: 978-1530995769
Purchase on Amazon

Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton originally for BookPleasures.com

Should you see some of the publicity for The Angel Strikes, potential readers might think they’re learning about a new novel deeply involved with the Napoleonic wars. In a sense, that’s true,  especially in the last quarter of the novel. But much of The Angel Strikes isn’t a typical historical drama. In fact, it doesn’t read like most modern historical fiction but rather feels like a personal memoir or a novel written during the period where everything is set, that is the early years of the 19th century. Just don’t expect much in the way of military action or struggles among the powerful movers and shakers of the period until the latter sections of the story.

The central figures at the beginning of the story, young orphan Paul Brandt and his uncles Franz and Albert, are Russian serfs trying to escape the poverty and misery of their lives by traveling east. Come winter, the trio hole up at an abandoned hut in a German forest, as far removed from worldly affairs as one could get.         But not for long. On the road near the hut, two women enter the men’s lives, Anna, a young waif, and her protector, the somewhat mysterious Rosalina.   Then other travelers draw the little company into larger affairs including agents for Napoleon’s Imperial Police, along with other gentlemen who might be German, English, or possibly American.

The French agents, enjoying the protection of Napoleon’s power over Prussia, have no problem murdering whomever they like and destroying anyone’s property they choose in search of important lost documents.   On the run from these agents, Paul, the narrator of the story,  and his group become involved in a battle between French forces and the Prussian army. Paul becomes known as the “angel of Jena” for his courageous killing of French soldiers which allows some Prussians to escape a slaughter on the battlefield.
As their picaresque journey continues, the party arrives at the castle of a friendly Duke who gives them lodging and protection while French assassins, a lusty seamstress, a pedophile priest, various servants trustworthy and otherwise, and a handful of spies become part of the growing Brandt social circles. At the same time, Paul gets more and more formal and informal education in the ways of a sophisticated world far removed from his Russian roots. Throughout his personal odyssey, Paul’s life is shaped by the influence of the Napoleonic clamp on Prussia and the fires of resistance he becomes part of.   Then, Paul takes us to Berlin where a young man on his own acquits himself very well by demonstrating what he has learned. It’s this part of the story where Paul Brandt is inevitably drawn into an important role in European history.

Author Oliver Fairfax deserves considerable credit for the level of minute detail he provides. He gives every scene and character in the book complete believability. He avoids making certain incidents melodramatic which other authors would be tempted to pump up. Again, readers can be forgiven for thinking they’re reading a story written between 1804 and the following decade in both style and substance. Perhaps some readers might be unhappy at the amount of description given meals, clothes, dwellings, and transports as well as the lengthy scenes establishing characters and their relationships intertwined with the shots of muskets and the cuttings of daggers and sabres.    Not until the final chapters do we witness an epic yarn spun out on a grand scale, but until then we experience a story that’s  engaging, personable, and likely to whet the appetite of many a history buff to continue the adventures in the sequels. After all, Oliver Fairfax has very successfully set the stage for the role of Paul Brandt in the coming conflict between France, Russia, and Prussia in 1812.    

Dr. Wesley Britton is the author ofThe Beta Earth Chronicles and a reviewer for BookPleasures.com. 

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