Benjamin Franklin and the Wendigo Plague – Robert Van Buskirk

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The great thing about ‘and’ titles is that they tend to act like a little synopsis of the book they belong to, usually informing the reader of the protagonist’s name and the obstacle they’re going to face. Benjamin Franklin and the Wendigo Plague is no exception. The famous American inventor and all-round genius is the novel’s main character. He needs to combat a supernatural plague turning his fellow colonists into cannibalistic bogeymen, before finding a way to defeat the Native Americans responsible for spreading the disease. The fact that Neolin, their spiritual leader, knows how to remotely detonate gunpowder doesn’t help matters.

Despite my very patchy understanding of American history, the novel’s setting did not confuse me at all. I was familiar enough with Benjamin Franklin and I’d previously picked up the Wendigo concept from an episode of Supernatural. Still, this book was the first time I’d encountered Neolin and Pontiac, and I thought that the former was Van Buskirk’s creation until I googled him. Although American history buffs will be the obvious audience for this novel, attentive readers will be able to fully enjoy it.

Benjamin Franklin and the Wendigo Plague is one of those interesting stories where a rational hero uses realistic methods to defeat a supernatural threat. (Other stories in this vein include the anime Death Note and the fan novel Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.) To combat the Wendigo plague, Franklin develops a primitive method of vaccination, and invents a steam-powered cannon to use when gunpowder becomes unfeasible. I love how the colonists, particularly Franklin, view their uncanny situation as the result of an unknown scientific phenomena. A much lazier author could get away with the historical characters deciding that anything unusual was witchcraft and having a riot about it.

Another interesting thing about Benjamin Franklin and the Wendigo Plague is that it sits on an intersection between fantasy, science fiction, and horror. The cause of the plague is apparently fantastic, the cure is scientific, and the wendigos themselves are horrific. I’m not really sure if this holds any advantage for the novel beyond marketing, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

What does hurt Benjamin Franklin and the Wendigo Plague is the cover. While the painting used is pretty good, I think it could have benefited from more colour saturation and by making the wendigo in the upper right corner more distinguishable from the trees behind him. The arrangement and sizing of the writing, particularly the title, could also could have been done better. I stumbled across a few stray quotation marks at the end of non-dialogue paragraphs, and even a passages of dialogue with quotation marks missing. This book needs a cover redesign and another round of grammatical fine-tuning before it gets the professional presentation it deserves.

I was greatly impressed by Benjamin Franklin and the Wendigo Plague and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to bibliophiles in general. Fans of the show Sleepy Hollow will appreciate how this book combines early American History with a horrifying supernatural threat, while Harry Turtledove devotees will enjoy how Van Buskirk populates his alternative history with engaging characters. Really, the only thing this book is missing is a sequel.

I was lucky enough to be given a free copy of this book to review. You can get your own copy from Amazon for around two dollars.

 

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