Benjamin Franklin and the Wendigo Plague by Robert A. van Buskirk
Kindle Edition, 186 pages
Published January 15th, 2016
It might just be the brownish cover, but this book reminded me of spending time in the elderly home’s library of my grandparents over 20 years ago. There were a lot of books with either a brown or a red cover and every now and then, I encountered one with a big ‘what the hell?’ factor being hidden in it. This book could’ve been one of those old books.
“The year is 1763 in an alternate history of North America. In this universe, Pontiac’s Rebellion is an overwhelming success. Westward expansion is halted when an immortal sachem uses his medicine to render gunpowder unusable and unleash a plague that turns Europeans into man-eating monsters. Can even Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest minds of the enlightenment and the father of steampunk, preserve England’s thirteen colonies on the continent?”
Imagine Benjamin Franklin and his common-law wife Deborah in a wagon, traveling through a forest together with the redcoat army, on the hunt/run for wendigos, and Indians who can control electricity of some sort. A deadly cannon powered by steam is also being transported in that same wagon. Together with an orange kitten named Butter.
Yes, I occasionally asked myself this:
You can’t pin it down to any genre really, which is something I can appreciate, and mixing all these ingredients could’ve gone so horribly, horribly wrong, but…it surprisingly made sense somehow.
The main thread throughout the book is the outbreak of the so-called wendigo plague.
For those of you who have no idea what a wendigo is: “…a wendigo is a half-beast creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquian people along the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes Region of both the United States and Canada. The creature or spirit could either possess characteristics of a human or a monster that had physically transformed from a person. It is particularly associated with cannibalism. The Algonquian believed those who indulged in eating human flesh were at particular risk…”(source: Wikipedia).
In this story, the wendigo plague ‘simply’ means there’s a virus on the loose that transforms affected people into wendigos who can then only think about one thing: devouring flesh. The details of the whole slaughtering and eating are described quite vividly in the book, so I guess you need a bit of a strong stomach to read it. This is where it shifts slightly towards the horror genre.
If you’re a fan of early American History, this book should be of interest to you because it covers the relationships between the English, the French and the native tribes quite well. I also learned a lot about Benjamin Franklin of whom I knew near to nothing. He doesn’t really play the role of a politician in this story, though, but is more of a scientist version of Van Helsing (the original one) without the actual fighting part (Franklin’s old, fat and suffers from gout). He’s a mastermind when it comes to finding solutions, and even comes up with a primitive form of vaccinating.
The paranormal part is a funny twist to the alternated history, yet didn’t always fully make sense to me because some parts were a bit sloppy. People infected with the plague always seem to do just fine until they get somewhere near Benjamin Franklin. A group of infected prisoners, guided through the snow towards the safety of the redcoats, were (after having arrived there) locked into a warm room to delay the onset of the plague. As soon as they set foot outside again, though, they all transform into wendigos practically straight away ‘because of the cold’. They arrived there in the snow people! What the heck?
The dialogues aren’t always the greatest either. At one point, right after shit has hit the fan, Franklin says to his wife:”You are worried about something“. No shit, Sherlock! And he’s supposed to be a genius for crying out loud. Then again, there are plenty of other people who have brilliant minds yet suck balls when it comes to socializing.
Nonetheless, I still think the writing is pretty good. The author surely can tell a story and knows his way with words. Here’s a passage I highlighted which speaks of a group of non-military men in the story who are called the Paxton boys. They refuse to get ‘vaccinated’:
“Because in addition to being ignorant, narrow-minded and violent, they’re also insular, clannish and suspicious of outsiders. And those are their good points. They already know all that they need to know, and they won’t listen to any facts or ideas that might contradict with what they know.”
I love this quote because we all know someone like that, right?
The ending made sense but wasn’t entirely satisfying for me. Adding an extra 25-50 pages or so to it in which some things are better explained would(‘ve) be(en) nice.
I would love to read something a bit more ‘serious’ from the author. I’m saying serious because there’s no way on earth I could see this book as more than merely entertaining. If I had to compare it to something, I’d say it reads like watching a B-movie/cult film. The scenario is absurd, the characters are weird with the occasional poor acting skills, and the cover, okay, the cover has to go. The painting is pretty nice actually, but the outlining’s just bad, mkay. I’m not judging books by their covers (okay, maybe I do that a lot, but I try not to!) but if it’s the first impression you’re giving to a reader, you have to grab their attention in a good way. So keep the painting, ditch the rest.
But yes, a cult film. I don’t mind those, I actually watched a lot of them, but always when being in a certain mood for it. The type of mood which acquires the kind of entertainment involving cheap popcorn. It’s the same with Benjamin Franklin and the Wendigo Plague. Read it when you’re in the mood for something silly. There’s actually plenty of humour in there as well (you can actually see an example of the author’s sense of humour in the ‘About the Author’-section here below) so maybe it’s what the author intended to go for in the first place? I’m giving it 2.5 brownies in general and 3 for when I’m in the right mood for it. I’d like to mention again that this is by no means a bad rating (see my rating system).
A big thank you to Robert A. Van Buskirk for providing me with a copy of his book in exchange for an honest review!
Links to the book:
~About the Author~
Robert A. Van Buskirk is still trying to decide what to be when he grows up. He’s worked in several lackluster occupations which don’t merit
detailed description. They were jobs that paid the
bills and fed his family. But aside from the qualities of being a responsible breadwinner and a caring father, he prefers not to define himself by those
vocations. As a child, he wanted to be an artist, a medieval knight, a mountain man, and a cowboy. Now, his heroes are inventors and writers. He cherishes past efforts to conceive any original idea and holds a single
patent for an invention. His ambition is to live somewhere green and hilly…
…and rich. Yup, you wouldn’t know it by his career choices, but he’d sort of like to have more money. He’s also decided he’d really, really like to be a 21-years old underwear model. It isn’t a realistic goal (the poor deluded fool is well past 50!) but we’ve already established that he defines himself more by his dreams than how he’s kept a roof over his head, so we’ll let it pass. He also values education and paid enough for books and tuition to amass 160 credits and two useless diplomas. Finally, he’s beginning to enjoy writing about himself in the third person.
Interesting, though I’m not that keen on paranormal twists to history. But world legends do interest me. I heard of the wendigo legends for the first time only a few months ago when I was researching for ‘It’s A Fantasy World’.
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Yeah, I read about Shakespeare hunting witches one time as well. Odd stuff. Cool! So does that mean I can encounter them in the book as well? 😉
They crop up in the fairy tale chapter. However, I have left the subject of witch hunts aside for more serious treatment another day..
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Cool! Yes, witch hunting definitely deserves a book of its own!
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