Liberty Bell and the Last American by James Stoddard
A clever and imaginative tale of a quest through a future America.
Liberty Bell and the Last American is a highly-imaginative, amazingly clever, fast-paced romp through a futuristic American landscape after the country has been laid waste in the Great Blackout. Hundreds of years have passed since the devastation of the planet and its peoples, in which few physical books and nothing that depended on electricity survived. However, during the ensuing centuries, the remnants of the population left on the American continent had cobbled together a version of their history, verbally handed down through the generations and combined with a single found copy of quotations by famous people to create a foundational work called “The Americana.” Unfortunately, the result somewhat resembled what you got at the end of the child’s game known as “Telephone.” Written in “Old American,” not everyone could read the original version, relying solely on modern interpretations. Liberty Bell was one of the few who learned the old language.
Liberty Bell is a lively and lovely young woman. This is her first trip away from her home on her own, so she’s understandably a bit timid at first. However, as her journey is interrupted (and takes a wild left turn), she rarely wavers in her confidence and determination to do the right thing for her country (of which she has a naïve understanding) and for her companions.
The author is supremely clever in reimagining the language of the day, recombining idioms, maxims, proverbs, or aphorisms into new common phrases. Old ideas jumbled together with current cultural references entertained me to the very end and are probably my favorite element in the book.
But while the malapropisms shine, the author ingeniously uses actual quotations from historical figures to develop their dialogue throughout the story. The literal battle of quotes between chess pieces representing Jefferson and Churchill left me in awe. Winnowing through what was surely hundreds of documented utterances by these two and coming out with such a coherent whole is an amazing feat to me.
The landscape through which the characters wander is also the result of taking reality and revising it to account for the alterations of time, climate, and supposedly lost source documents. At times, I was reminded of Dorothy’s journey through Oz on her way to the Emerald City; not only did the scenery have some of the same ‘look and feel,‘ but there was also the quest-like nature of the journey itself.
Stoddard has created a unique, fresh, and very entertaining work. I recommend LIBERTY BELL AND THE LAST AMERICAN for readers who like tales of quests with elements of magic and SciFi, coming-of-age stories, and especially for those who enjoy and are familiar with American history. (A copy of the Constitution and Amendments are included at the end of the book as an extra.)
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Lone Star Book Blog Tours.