Overlapping timelines in different centuries, epic struggles of self-discovery, and enough fantasy thrills to make your head spin, Blowback ’63 by Brian Meehl is a roller-coaster of a novel, but also a clever and well-planned drama. Following on the heels of Blowback ’07, the first installment of this series, Meehl continues his era-jumping narration and sheds even more light on Arky and Iris, the enigmatic core of these novels.
As in the first book, Arky and Iris are still doggedly searching for their mother, trapped somewhere back in time. The magical family instrument, the Jongler cor anglais, once again drives the plot forward, sending Arky and his friend Danny back to Civil War times. Arky must find a way to survive the bullets of the bloodiest period in American history, while also keeping Danny from irreparably changing the future.
The sports twist on the time traveling – baseball, this time, like football in the first book – is a lighthearted and well-written aspect of the book. It is clear that Meehl has a soft spot for athletics, as well as the valuable life lessons embedded in some of our favorite sporting pastimes. It would come as a surprise if the final installment of this series didn’t also tell its story through some linkage with a popular sport.
Iris doesn’t get as much focus in this book, but when she does step into the spotlight, she becomes one of the more interesting characters that Meehl has created. Her independent storyline, and her dangerous interactions with Matt, are some of the best parts of this book, revealing a strong-willed young woman with a captivating attitude. She and Arky are heroic in very different ways, but both are thoroughly entertaining as protagonists.
Iris’ relationship with Arky is also wonderfully conveyed, as Meehl manages to capture many of the delicate, touching aspects of siblings that are so easy to overlook. At the same time, they are dealing with serious and complex issues for children to be working out, yet they carry these novels – the conflict over their mother’s disappearance or death, and the blend of fear and excitement that their time-traveling adventures cause. The characters overall are mature without being pretentious, able to make mistakes and admit their faults, so they’re believable and genuinely engaging, no matter the fantastical nature of the setting.
The writing has improved from the first novel, perhaps due to tighter editing and fewer wasted words, and the pace of the story is consistent throughout. Despite there being some level of whimsy to time travel and innocent games of baseball, Meehl tackles more serious social and political issues just as readily, and seeing these historical events through the eyes of children adds a sincerity to the novel that gives it a surprising layer of depth.
The premise of this series lands it in the fantasy genre, but it has the hard-hitting character development and philosophical gravitas of a great novel. Blowback ’63 is a strong second piece of this trilogy, and with plenty of loose ends to tie up before the conclusion, the final Blowback installment promises to be truly memorable.
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