Philo Hergenschmit stars in one of the most creative and interesting book series of the last year. As with the first two titles in the Yankee Republic series, the third entry, The Tower of the Bear, follows the warm hearted and brilliant engineer as he explores even more of his strange and wonderful world.
Over the last few decades the term “Young Adult” has been commandeered by authors looking to put a little fresh marketing lipstick on shallow novels that rightly belong in softcore Monster Romance or Dystopian Female Savior Tale. So perhaps it is better to call The Tower of the Bear an old-school YA novel. The prose certainly flows along at a level suitable for any reasonably clever child, and the plot evokes the sort of wonder at our incredible universe that the years file down as we age. Add to that the bloodlessness of the adventure – our fully grown Philo carries no gun and throws no punches – and you have the perfect recipe for an alternate-earth quest tale that is perfectly suited for the more virtuous and adventurous young reader.
Once again Fenton finds a way to advance the overarching epic plot of the Yankee Republic in a way that feels natural without feeling repetitious. It turns out that the stories told by good old Randall in Book One are true – or true enough or the storyteller’s purpose. Fenton uses the fate of the biggest little pirate station in the world in Book Two to eases the reader gently and gradually into the depths of the YR’s mysteries and strangeness. With that accomplished, Fenton finally shifts the action into high gear and launches Philo into a wide-ranging quest to unlock the secrets of a strange metal alloy. He meets countless larger than life characters, performs his usual technological wizardry, and guides the reader into a deeper understanding of how his world diverges from our own.
The story carries a lot of flavors. At times pure sci-fi, at times post-apocalyptic, and at times a nostalgic look at an America that never was, Fenton blends these ingredients to create something new and entirely different. It is a warm story filled with a love of history and a love of America and the American dream, even if (and perhaps becauseof ) its solution to the price of her political mistakes results in an America vastly different from the one seen outside your window. It is a smaller America, and a more thoughtful one, but one that is recognizable, dreamlike, and a joy to visit.
As a fetch quest, the plot does meander about as much as Philo himself, but the scenery is so nice, it’s hard to complain. Philo winds up engaging not in a linear narrative, but more of a stepped series of side-quests in pursuit of his main goal. And be warned that the book ends with one hell of a cliffhanger. If you are easily frustrated by long waits, you might want to hold off until Book Four, of a rumored five books, is released. For those of us living vicariously through Philo’s eyes, that day can’t come soon enough.