A CHRISTMAS TWIST: A Twist in Time Book II Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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A CHRISTMAS TWIST: A Twist in Time Book II Review

Alexander Wallace does the twist!
Whenever somebody brings up the Victorians and the apparent daintiness of the period on the internet there is always that one person who points out the callousness of its working conditions and the butchery of its imperialism. Both are true observations; you can see very similar when people praise Roman architecture, for there will be those who will happily bring up their widespread usage of slaves. Even so, we see these periods and often still do value their artistic contributions, sometimes forgetting the misery of the times in the process.

In some ways, it’s that discrepancy that Brent A. Harris’ A Christmas Twist is trying to address. It’s a story about redemption, and therein Harris asks: how redeemable is Victorian Britain? To answer this, he takes a base made of Dickens and adds a spoonful of Bioshock, a pinch of The Difference Engine, and a dash of The Time Machine to create a wonderful Christmas tale that I enjoyed the whole way through.

This is very much a fan extension on Dickens, in the way that I’ve written about fan extensions to H. G. Wells. The bulk of the novel is narrated by Oliver Twist himself, Ebenezer Scrooge plays a key role in the plot, and many other Dickens characters fill the supporting cast. To Harris’ great credit, he puts every bit as much focus on the social issues that informed Dickens that Dickens himself did, making him a Stephen Baxter rather than a Christopher Priest, to compare him once again to those who have added to Wells. Harris passes with flying colors what I call the ‘Crossley Test,’ referring to Robert Crossley’s afterword to the copy of Octavia Butler’s Kindred: a story focusing on social issues must have good storytelling and not just good issues. The crushing class divide that inspired Marx is not brushed aside or used as a mallet to the readers head; rather, it provides a sturdy scaffolding for a story about wealth and power and justice, and the obligations of those that have it.

In terms of simple Victoriana finery, there’s plenty of it here. You have Oliver Twist’s time-bending watch, which powers so much of the plot. You have, at an opportune time, a steam-powered motorcycle. You have the steel-suited enforcers of a dystopian future (one that reminded me equally of Bioshock’s big daddies and a certain interlude in Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships). You have the simple joy of seeing the poor children of London go ice skating together on a frozen Thames. You have the supernatural that defined a lot of the Gothic literature of the period, with a haunting scene in a graveyard that in some ways kicks off the entire story.

Oliver himself makes a compelling narrator. He is very human, not simply an observer of the world in the way that some speculative fiction narrators are. He has his weaknesses and his attachments; it’s these attachments to various other characters in the book, and how he deals with them, that are some of the most enjoyable parts of the book (I particularly liked the way he interacted with a certain female character in the future).

In terms of it being a Christmas tale, it works wonderfully. There’s one particular scene that stuck with me where the children of London are ice skating. It succeeds in capturing that innocence, that fresh lack of cynicism, that makes so many Christmas stories into classics. A Christmas Twist (and I am ashamed to say that it took me reading 89 percent of the book to realize that the title is a pun) is not at all cynical; there is earned joy that runs under all of the plot, albeit that which is not unchallenged by the plot.

A Christmas Twist was a very pleasant surprise; I have read some of Harris’ work in anthologies from Inklings Press, but had not read any of his novels up until now. Here, he has crafted a wonderful little Christmas tale that ought to be read by those looking for a steampunk take on the holiday.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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