Title: Along the Watchtower
Author: David Litwack
Publisher: Dragon Publishing
Release Date: June 2013
Length: 214 pages
Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy
Source: Masquerade Book Tours
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A Tragic Warrior Lost in Two Worlds…
The war in Iraq ended for Lieutenant Freddie Williams when an IED explosion left his mind and body shattered. Once he was a skilled gamer and expert in virtual warfare. Now he’s a broken warrior, emerging from a medically induced coma to discover he’s inhabiting two separate realities. The first is his waking world of pain, family trials, and remorse—and slow rehabilitation through the tender care of Becky, his physical therapist. The second is a dark fantasy realm of quests, demons, and magic that Freddie enters when he sleeps.
In his dreams he is Frederick, Prince of Stormwind, who must make sense of his horrific visions in order to save his embattled kingdom from the monstrous Horde. His only solace awaits him in the royal gardens, where the gentle words of the beautiful gardener, Rebecca, calm the storms in his soul. While in the conscious world, the severely wounded vet faces a strangely similar and equally perilous mission—a journey along a dark road haunted by demons of guilt and memory—and letting patient, loving Becky into his damaged and shuttered heart may be his only way back from Hell.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started this book. Several years ago, before meeting D, I dated a veteran who’d done two tours. He had PTSD. He was paranoid about things – always securing the house and had dreams and night terrors, like Freddie does in Litwack’s novel. I wasn’t sure if I could understand Freddie’s character, or his struggles, when I first started reading. Or how Litwack would alternate this dream world reality. But I found that I could not put this novel down. I had to find out what Freddie was going to do next in real life, and also what would happen in his dream world. I could fully relate and understand Freddie’s character, and the switch between the two worlds was done so seamlessly that I could not help but marvel at how Litwack pulled it off.
Freddie is the kind of dark, brooding guy. He’s lived through a lot and it has haunted him, perhaps now more so than before. He is heavily troubled by the hand fate has dealt him in life, which has been full of disappointments and pain. Perhaps because he is at a point, looking back and realizing death was at his door, he is thinking back to the past and reliving it, like the elderly often do before death. It is a past that Freddie cannot quite let go of, or move on without.
After the IED explosion and during all of his time unconscious or in a coma, Freddie started dreaming of an alternate reality – in many ways similar to his role playing in World of Warcraft. He is a prince, set with the mission of overcoming three trials to save his kingdom – and become king. But for Prince Frederick there are many stipulations and special rules. At sunset he must report to the watchtower to watch visions, meant to help him in his quests.
The chapters alternate between Freddie’s real life and his dream life. Now that he is back in the US, in rehab and working on retaining strength in his body, he is also trying to regain his past and the memories he cannot find. His PT therapist, Becky, and staff members Ralph and Dinah, are the three characters who interact with Freddie the most during his rehabilitation. Freddie also meets Jimmie, a guy who can’t remember anything before his own explosion – he can’t remember the young girl who comes to visit him, who tells him they were engaged. These four characters carry Freddie – emotionally and mentally – in many ways throughout the novel.
It wasn’t until the last quarter of the book that I realized the three hospital staffers are paralleled in Freddie’s dream world. About this time it started becoming very clear and evident that what happened in Freddie’s real life was superimposed and represented in his dream world.
Freddie’s development and change in this book is like no other I’ve read. He is a shattered man back from war, who has really lost everything in his life, and it is Becky (with the help of Ralph and Dinah) that leads him on this journey of self-discovery and rebirth. At a couple of points in the novel, Freddie shuns Becky’s help. It was so painful to see, because I kept imagining all manner of ways the rest of the novel would play out.
I wanted to conk Freddie upside his daft head. This part I did not understand from him, about why he would be mean and push Becky away. It is not until there is a glimmer of hope in Freddie’s life – that perhaps he still has a brother who lives – that we discover Freddie’s reasons to ignore Becky, as he talks to first Dinah and then Ralph. I could relate so well to his reasoning: he has a dark past filled with death and despair. Why drag someone else down into it?
But Freddie must learn that it is not about his past and the demons that haunt him that matter at this point in his life now. It is about the future, and Becky is leading a life of example for him.
I cannot express how much I enjoyed Freddie and Becky in this novel. I could relate in more ways than I want to count to the events in Freddie’s past. That was what allowed me to really understand his character, to get inside and understand the inner workings.
The novel ends with Freddie’s real world and dream world running in parallels. The epilogue was short, sweet and wrapped up Freddie’s relationship with Becky without question…but I was left with this nagging question that I could not be wrangled from: what about his brother? His brother had been a large part of Freddie’s past and conflict throughout the book, and then once Freddie finds out about him, that’s the end of it, which did not satisfy me at all. That is really my only complaint about this book – the way that Freddie finds out about his brother toward the end and that there is no follow-up with that.
I highly recommend this book. Freddie’s real and dream worlds are something to see play out side by side, and the hospital staff characters are all strong, firm and grounded in what they understand and believe, and guide these damaged and injured vets not only to physical health but also (hopefully) a new mentality.
*****About the Author*****
The urge to write first struck when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. But he was inspired to write about the blurry line between reality and the fantastic.
Using two fingers and lots of white-out, he religiously typed five pages a day throughout college and well into his twenties. Then life intervened. He paused to raise two sons and pursue a career, in the process becoming a well-known entrepreneur in the software industry, founding several successful companies. When he found time again to daydream, the urge to write returned. His novels include: There Comes a Prophet, Along the Watchtower, and the newly released The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky.
David and his wife split their time between Cape Cod, Florida and anywhere else that catches their fancy. He no longer limits himself to five pages a day and is thankful every keystroke for the invention of the word processor.