4 out of 4 stars
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John Kirk just landed a job as a career firefighter in California after fighting wildfires. At his first real fire, he's assigned to take water to the heart of it. He crawls inside the house in the year 2018; when he crawls out, it's 1871.
John winds up in Chicago in 1871 before the Great Chicago Fire. The boys of Engine Company 8 adopt him thinking he has amnesia from a bump on the head as he's claiming some wild things. He knows so much about the fires to come that he wants to help prevent them from happening. But how did he get to 1871? Will anyone believe that he is from the future? Can he risk changing the timeline?
I hope that I didn't lose you at time travel. I know that it's an automatic turnoff to some, but this is so much more than science fiction. It's also a drama; it's a book about people and their lives. This is a book about the life of John Kirk and how he learns to fit in in 1871. This is a book about the people he meets - his fellow firefighters who use astonishingly modern methods to go about putting out these fires without the protection that technology affords us today. There's even just a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. The characters are so well drawn that you will swear you know them. You'll be sad that you are no longer part of their lives when the book ends.
The time travel aspect was not overly scientific which I appreciated. So many times with time travel stories, my head spins from trying to figure out paradoxes, ripples and alternates. Towards the end, the author goes into more detail but only what is necessary to the plot and to satisfy curiosity. Speaking of the ending, all I can say is that it's satisfying. I was wondering how Mr. Merl was going to incorporate the past and present, but he does a beautiful job. I was impressed.
In addition, this is a historical fiction. I learned about firefighting methods in the 1800s. I learned that the Great Chicago Fire started in the O'Leary's barn. I learned that Chicago was going through a dry spell at the time, but, as the fire started to die out, it began to rain. I don't want to spoil it all for you, but I learned a great many things from reading this story. And, I was not a reluctant learner. Mr. Merl interspersed the historical facts in with great characters and a compelling plot that just makes you want to keep coming back for more.
If there is anything to criticize, it would be that the beginning is a bit slower than I would like. There are a few terms and a bit more detail about firefighting than I was comfortable with. But, just as my eyes were beginning to glaze over, the author threw me for a loop; from that point on, I was hooked.
I don't know if you can tell, but I absolutely loved Chicago 1871 by James E. Merl. There was action with Engine Company 8 fighting fires. There was some romance. There was mystery and science fiction. Is Mr. Kirk going to change the future? Will John ever get back home? Will his timeline be altered? There was a fabulous plot. And there were great characters with which I fell in love. I emphatically give this story 4 out of 4 stars. Perhaps those that don't enjoy novels placed in the past would not appreciate this book. However, for everyone else, I highly recommend you pick this story up. I can't wait to see what else the author comes up with.
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