3 out of 4 stars
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Freiheit by Ben Pickering is a historical sci-fi thriller with a time travel twist. Sustained financially by a trust fund inherited from his father, James Curtis spends his time stealing back expensive artworks from rich thieves to return them to their rightful owners. During his escape after acquiring a painting from a Russian oligarch, he crashes his Ferrari and winds up with the Russian FSB, the former KGB. After some rough treatment in their custody, Colonel Arnold Crombie arrives with a proposal for Curtis. The proposal involves scientists at the CERN facility in Geneva, and some untested time travel bracelets awaiting human guinea pigs. After sending Curtis and another man, Luka Rothstein, one day into the past, they use the technique of Trans-Animate Displacement to send the two men back to May 12th, 1941, during World War II. Curtis soon learns that messing with the past can have disastrous consequences...
Freiheit caught my attention immediately with its bold, brilliant cover, featuring a metal time bracelet lying in the snow below frosted mountain peaks, and the excellent tag line: “What if Hitler never lived?” The combination of Hitler, war, and time travel hooked me immediately. The title Freiheit means “freedom” or “liberty,” which had special significance throughout the story. The plot, based on a screenplay by Darren Ripley and Ben Pickering, was very cinematic in scope, from the concept to its scale, action, and geography.
Beautifully written and edited, this book was rich in historical detail, setting the scene with an in-depth background for people, events, and locations. One possible negative for thriller fans was the amount of historical detail between action sequences. This did slow down the main plot a little, but those with a keen interest in history, particularly Nazi Germany, will find this book fascinating. Pickering did give his story plenty of context through this factual detail, without which I would have been lost.
Given the book’s focus on time travel, one character’s few Back to the Future references provided some good comic relief. Pickering also presented an interesting and realistic portrayal of an alternate reality based on a history-changing event in the past. I found myself intrigued as he fleshed out this complex and detailed history from the simple “What if...?” posed by the book’s cover. The new reality seemed compelling and authentic, evolving from realistic assumptions and decisions made by the powerful people who shaped it.
There were a few slightly questionable English phrases in this book, such as: “...on the by then fractured Eastern Front...” I also found some minor typographical errors, including homophone errors and single missed words. However, I really enjoyed this novel and would recommend it equally to fans of historical fiction, science fiction, and action – provided the latter aren’t deterred by somewhat lengthy history lessons. It contained some profanity but no sex scenes. Due to its minor errors, I can only rate Freiheit 3 out of 4 stars. Apart from these errors, however, it was a 4-star book, an excellent début novel by an author with a real passion for science, history, geography, and culture.
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