Book Reviews

Book Review: Final Chance by Michael Roberts – One Last Task

I love the genre of alternate history. That is where the author takes a point in history and ponders what would happen if things had turned out differently. Final Chance is the last book in a trilogy that is a bit different than what I usually read in alternate history. Instead of finding a point in history and postulating what would have happened had things gone differently, author Michael Roberts hast the protagonist, Thomas Cain, in current time much different from our own. The British have managed to put down the rebellion in the Colonies back in the late 18th century, leading to British domination over the world that continues into the 20th century. After losing his wife when she was raped and murdered by a British soldier and not finding any justice, Thomas is tasked by his friends to go back to the 1700s and change the outcome of the rebellion. He’s given three specific things that should turn the tide of the war.

Final Chance picks up where the previous novel left off. Thomas is in France, after having succeeded in his unofficial mission to assassinate the Prime Minister of England. He’s trying to figure out how to get himself back to the Colonies and to the new woman in his life, Annie, and her daughters. Meanwhile, the King of England is enraged by the fact that his Prime Minister was murdered in his own castle by the mysterious Pale Rider who has been almost single-handedly empowering the rebelling colonists. He sets Joseph Brant, one of their top guerilla operatives, on Thomas’ trail and promises a huge reward if Brant can kill him.

Brant is known as a monster, but he has the patience to wait for the right opportunity. He learns about Annie and her daughters, who are currently in Valley Forge under Washington’s protection. Brant theorizes if he can kidnap Annie, he can use her to lure Thomas into a trap and kill him. This puts two very skilled assassins at each other, and I wasn’t sure if that was how Roberts would end the series. We were already in uncharted territory, with Thomas’ assassination of the Prime Minister. Having Thomas perish after rescuing Annie would be a fitting end without him having any progeny or any other impact on future events.

I vaguely remembered the name Joseph Brant from my history education, but had to look him up. He was a real figure; part native American, he aligned himself with the British during the revolution and has a reputation as a monster, just as in Final Chance. He had a company of “Brant’s Volunteers” who consisted of Mohawk and Tuscarora warriors and 80 white Loyalists. He found himself a war chief when the Six Nations alliance broke apart and chose sides in the War. Brant then would fight on the New York frontier, raiding various settlements.

I didn’t know all of this before reading Final Chance, so I consider it a plus that it motivated me to look up historical figures and learn a bit more. However, there were a number of missteps in the book that I cannot ignore. Roberts at times seems to paint Thomas as single-handedly saving the Revolution and, by consequence, the United States. Everyone else seems to just sit around and talk, while Thomas makes plans and saves the day. While in Paris, Thomas is with John Paul Jones, Ben Franklin, and John Adams. Yes, it is only he who can figure out a way to get through the British blockade. Washington turns to Thomas again and again as if no one else is capable of fighting or pulling off a mission. Thomas talks very arrogantly to these people and seems to look down on them as well.

Thomas also has a conflict with Benjamin Tallmadge, renowned in our time as one of Washington’s best spies. The author seems to have doubts about Tallmadge’s loyalty during this time, despite there being no evidence of his duplicity, and it translates into Thomas’ dealings with Tallmadge. I didn’t think this was a fair assessment of Tallmadge or Washington in regard to the spy network.

There’s also a problem with assuming that many things would have developed the same way had history been changed. The weapons Thomas has brought back into the past with him are familiar to a person in the 21st century. He brings back a cell phone with information in it that he can look up if he has to. This presumes that not just telephones and cell phones were developed the same way, but also the internet! I’d find that hard to believe in a world that seems to be dominated by the British where there was no Civil War, and no World War I or II. Thomas also mentions having “Lincoln Logs” as a child. How could that be when Lincoln was never President?

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Final Chance, though. I found it a compelling and fun read, even if it overdid it a bit with the infallible, all-knowing hero. There was great suspense and action, and I did learn something by reading it. I don’t think you could pick up this book and understand it without having read the previous two, so it doesn’t stand on its own at all. If you’re interested in the series, I recommend starting at the beginning. Despite its faults, I found Final Chance to be fun and engaging.

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6 replies »

  1. Alas, I didn’t learn much about the American Revolution (besides the usual “highlights”) from history classes. I did, however, have a National Geographic book about the war for Independence that my mom gave me for Christmas circa 1973 or ’74, and that’s where I found out about Joseph Brant, Jane McCrea, John Stark, the Battle of Saratoga, the Bennington Flag (I had a plastic replica of it in 1976, the Bicentennial Year), and all the cool things that most teachers skip over, especially in grade school.

    • I’m getting more into it now. The books that say history is interesting, it’s the way it’s taught that makes it boring is so true. I told the family that when I turn 65 and can attend college for free, I’m getting a Masters in American History.

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