Peter Lean’s time-travel novel, The Guns of Napoleon is a self-published novel that, with a little bit of work, could easily have been published through a specialty-publishing house. Unfortunately, finding such small, niche publishers can be challenging but the self-publishing medium can help such writers and publishers find each other. Here’s hoping that my little blog can help Lean and a publisher find one another for his second book as I continue to try and give promising self-publishing writers some of the attention their efforts deserve. Though The Guns of Napoleon has some tightening up and editing to do, the premise, plot, and writing itself show that Lean has what it takes to write a good story.
Victor Sirkov is a history professor in modern Russia whose field of specialty and passion are for Napoleon and his failed Russian campaign. One Friday evening, two men appear on his doorstep asking that he accompany them to a state-of-the-art facility for a mysterious consulting job. When Victor arrives, he learns that the institute’s director, Martin Roche, wants Victor to be part of an experiment centered on a wormhole that the institute was built around. From all their tests, they have determined that the wormhole will deposit anyone or anything into Russia in 1812 and they want Victor to be one of the first human test subjects. Jumping at the opportunity, Victor does not go through the wormhole alone but what awaits him on the other side is more than the simple mission he signed on for and could forever alter the course of world history.
The plot of Victor’s adventure is solid and the research that went into the period is clear. There are some grammar mistakes that several rounds of professional editing would help to clean up but for a writer whose first language is not English, it’s in remarkably good shape. As someone who is both a history nerd and a fan of science fiction (and time travel tales), the alternate histories theorized are thought provoking in their progression from one changed event to the next, shifting international power and the development of technologies in a surprising way but with clear reasons behind it.
Where I feel the book can use the most improvement is in cutting down some of Victor’s repetitious thoughts and in further developing certain characters and relationships. The relationship between Victor and Natalia was the most rushed in my opinion. The nature of the story requires that a lot of time chronologically be covered in a short amount of time narratively. I feel that more of that time could have been spent showing the relationship between these two characters develop rather than simply stating that it happened, especially since Natalia is one of a very few female characters in the story at all. I also feel that more development of Schmidt would make some of the early and necessary plot points feel less contrived.
There are some aspects that are delightfully predictable (they are almost a necessary part of time travel tales and can be forgiven simply because they pay homage to the genre so nicely) but the period and events addressed in this particular time travel novel are not among those that have been done to death in the genre which help it feel fresh; it just needs a bit of polishing smoothing for its rougher edges.