Although this is his first work of fiction, Baylus C. Brooks is no stranger to maritime-themed research and writing. He is an acknowledged expert on the life and death of Edward “Blackbeard” Thache (pronounced Teach), having come closer to tracing Thache’s origins in his three books on the subject than any other scholar before him. His research has been crucial to my work in historical education and entertainment related to the Golden Age of Piracy.
Never one to be afraid of controversy or putting himself out there as a scholar, it is no surprise that Brooks does not ease his way into fiction writing, but throws himself instead into the deep end of the ocean by giving us a novel that not only deals with Time Travel, but does so in a compelling, cutting-edge way.
If you are a fan of other time-jumping historical fiction like the Outlander series, or even such nonhistorical entertainment as Avengers: Endgame or the Terminator series and the multiple timelines of Westworld, then this is a novel for you.
The first thing you’ll want to do (although it is not necessary to understanding the multi-time-period plot) is to track the time periods. The book begins with a prologue set in 1781 at the deciding battle of the American Revolution, Yorktown, before jumping to 2072, when the world is locked in a semi-worst-case scenario involving new alignments in geopolitical divisions based on our current world events and a food supply that has dwindled to a specially engineered kelp. Yes… science. There is plenty of mysterious science in Fountains of Hope, as with any sci-fi adventure novel and whether or not it is true science is, as always, besides the point. I like Brooks’s take on the evil aspects of advanced science and the nefarious shadow organizations whose morality is as questionable as their authority is unearned.
Next we move to 1808, where we meet our hero, Lt. Stephen Hathorne, who, during a hurricane off the coast of Florida (as I type this, Dorian’s bearing down on them), is thrown from that most famously named of all American naval vessels, the USS Enterprise. Those with a love of pirate history will recall that another devastating hurricane, in 1715, sunk the Spanish plate fleet and not only financed the Republic of Pirates led by Benjamin Hornigold and “Black” Sam Bellamy, but gave rise to a key plot point in the hit series Black Sails.
At this stage, only about 10 percent through the story, we already see Brooks’s abilities as a researcher, as he describes the Yorktown battlefield and larger context as well as the chaos on a sailing vessel during a hurricane with authority and authenticity. His writing here reminds me of John Jakes.
As the ship struggles to stay afloat, Stephen finds his father’s timepiece in his sea trunk. This object, a silver watch with supernatural properties, including electric blue light that emanates as it operates, is the mechanism by which time travel is accomplished.
It is here that we get some family backstory, which includes Stephen’s father’s best friend George. It was he who was by Stephen’s father’s side when he died of his wounds at Yorktown.
Washing up on the shore of St. Augustine, the oldest town in America, Stephen engages with the Indigenous tribes, and again Brooks shows the depth of his research (he lives in that area), exploring the ever-important subjects of slavery and colonization as well as the shamanic aspects of native cultures.
Shifting to 2073, we meet the heroine, Robyn, whose love of old books and films gives her a context for the time travel she encounters when—you guessed it—she meets and falls in love with our hero in a romantic comedy “meet-cute” that serves the story well.
During their adventures the romance continues, and as they travel through time, Robyn adjusts at a believable pace (rare in time-travel tales) and the couple work together puzzling out what is taking place. Their interactions lend credence to the time travel parameters and paradoxes that send the majority of these kinds of stories off the rails.
Once the ground rules for time travel have been shared, the narrative goes by at a blazing pace, jumping back and forth with glee as we meet a murderous, maniacal villain; encounter doppelgangers aplenty; take a breathtaking journey up the East Coast of colonial America in 1781 (where Brooks’s scholarship shines; the sequence on the Dutch merchant vessel, including a run-in with pirates, is a highlight); and wind up in Salem, Massachusetts 70 years earlier, during the Witch Trials, where Brooks incorporates the historical personage of Justice of the Peace John Hathorne into the narrative as the great grandfather of Stephen.
A quick aside. As a writer of historical fiction, blending your fiction with the facts is half the fun. I believe for the reader as well.
The ending is satisfying and sensible—although not a guarantee with stories of this kind. And—remember how I suggested you track the time periods?—it all ends earlier than it started, in 1539.
At its core, Fountain of Hope is a morality tale about where the world is and where it is going, both geopolitically and in terms of increasingly insidious, invasive technology. Couple that with a good-old swashbuckling revenge story with some surprising reveals and this is a book well worth a read.
Highly researched, Fountain of Hope is richly illustrated with maps, woodcuts, and images that lend historical credence and situate the reader more fully in the worlds Brooks crafts with his words.
Title: Fountain of Hope: Dimensions
Author: Baylus C. Brooks
Paperback: 554 pages
Publisher: Lulu.com (April 28, 2018)