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Monday, December 10, 2007

Review: Ultimate Passage

The Ultimate Passage
by Jean Hackensmith and Kathe Birch

Darius Calhoun is President of the U.S.—in the year 2320. Citizens of earth now live in domed cities, because pollution has reached the point where the air is no longer fit to breathe. They no longer feel hatred, jealousy, envy or love. They don’t have sex either, and haven’t for nearly two hundred years. Why? Because it’s messy, unsanitary and can transmit disease. Imagine Darius’ horror then, when he suddenly finds himself displaced in time at the whim of the goddess Aveena—goddess of love.

His trek to 14th century Scotland is every man’s nightmare. He is forced to live in a cold, drafty castle, wear a kilt, and use the ghastly “privy” when it comes time to take care of nature’s call. Worst of all, he is expected to be an “advisor” to Robert the Bruce, the self-proclaimed King of Scotland. How is he to counsel the king on tactics of war when, where he came from, that barbaric institution, too, had been extinct for over two hundred years?

Only one thing in this godforsaken time period enables Darius to keep his sanity. Her name is Lara Macgregor. Her father is lord of the castle and its surrounding lands. Lara is beautiful, spunky—and looking for a mate. Of course, in this day and age, that means having sex and Darius wants no part of it. He feels nothing for Lara but friendship…at least he didn’t at first. Now though, strange things are happening to his mind and body and, with the war for independence in Scotland gaining momentum, so does Darius’ resolve that at some point in time, government leaders in his own world did something terribly wrong.

The warm Scottish brogue that greets readers immediately draws us into this vast and complex tale. It could not be more accurate than to say that the main characters in The Ultimate Passage are from different worlds: the fog-enshrouded Scottish castle to the Oval Office in Washington, D.C. The eras - and the people- in this tale are incredibly different, but we also discover that they are remarkably similar. How times and people intersect is only one part of this incredible tale. There are so many elements at work here, it is in fact difficult to assign this work any one specific category. And, no category quite does it justice: Paranormal, alternate history with strong elements of romance and a delightfully deft humor all might offer something of an idea, but in truth, one need not be a fan of any particular category to be intrigued and utterly delighted by this work.

Old battles, current clashes, and a bunch of powerful and opinionated Scotts all comprise the opening. The dialogue is fast-paced and revealing. The desperate situation confronting Scotland is made plain in conversation -- and our sympathies are thoroughly engaged.

The story is intriguing because of personalities as much as politics. As Robert 'The Bruce', the leader of all Scotland struggles to maintain the security of various castles, the main characters struggle to support his efforts. News and war-time intelligence as well premonition guide the decisions of our main characters.

Lara, daughter of a goddess, and faithful to all that is Scotland, is unaccountably supported by the desperate efforts of an enigmatic man from a far distant, far different, future world. The affection he feels for her, as well as passion are as strange to this future man as is this peculiar life in the past. For him, joining the desperate effort to defend Scotland is a voyage of self-discovery, as much as the discovery of a love. The contrasts between his supposed idyllic lifestyle and this struggle of the past are surprising.

And equally surprising, for him, is love; a legendary type of love, an unusual, unlooked-for love, which may change the course of a nation.

Knights and heroes fill this tale, Lords and ladies and all the trappings of the castle life. Courage fills these pages, and trust... and no less, betrayal. Powerful female figures have as much impact on history as do the men. Heart-pounding battle action includes wonderful details from clothing, to details of castles and land, to weapons and more. It all has an accurate historic feel, making the paranormal events seem plausible. The rift in time seems to fade into the background, once its role is established... and it is a shock when time again twists in surprising and unpredictable ways. Aveena's "reinforcements" are a surprising and quite astonishing interlude in what seems a horrendously dark battle and siege.

This incredibly unpredictable story is an absolute page-turner from the start; endearing, suspenseful, and amazingly complex, this is a tale one could happily read over and over again, and each time, discover something new.

The impact of time travel is vital throughout this story - although utterly unpredictable, and at times, quite amusing. Hackensmith and Birch manage to carry forward and amazing amount of detail through all the machinations of this magnificent novel. Small elements that the reader enjoys for their entertainment value crop up later, and only then do we realize the actual import of certain specific events.

Subtle, well written, with a complex storyline and exceptional characters, The Ultimate Passage more than lives up to its name. This is one to buy, keep, read and re-read.

Review by Snapdragon.

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