Along the Watchtower is a combination of fantasy and contemporary fiction that tells the story of an Iraqi war veteran’s physical and emotional healing. Parallel to the story of Frank defeating his inner demons in a hospital in America is that of a dauphin’s trials in a fantasy world. Prince Frederick must pass a series of mystical trials before he can become King, and if he fails, the Kingdom will loose its protective magic and fall to the enemy.
In the fantasy world, magic is real, but Frederick does not have any to help him; he must overcome his trials – which cannot be won by sword or dagger – by himself and not fall prey to the assassin who thrives on despair. Frank does not have magic either, but he has Becky, the physical therapist with the magic hands and cheerful, ever-hopeful personality. Frank has a similar goddess to help him; his is in the form of the gardener.
The mysteries that Frederick must solve are metaphors for Frank’s psychological conundrum, so when Prince Frederick finds the names the heroes that lie in the crypt, Frank – who suffered mild brain damage – remembers the names of his fallen comrades. The link also works the other way; when Frank has a breakthrough, Prince Frederick has a related success. I guess you could call it a symbiotic relationship.
It’s a clever concept and well done. Frank dreams the fantasy world, and Prince Frederick has visions of our world. The archetypical world of the Kingdom, the castle, the elf, and the assassin are inspired by Franks’s gaming experience, and this dark world of quests and trials resides in Frank’s psyche as clearly as his own world. Archetypes of the fool, the hero, the wise man, the goddess and so on, play their role in Frank’s coming to terms with himself and his future.
The book not only helps us to understand the trials of a severely injured returned serviceman, but also highlights the archetypal nature of computer games and the healing power of using such imagery to defeat our inner assassins.
Craft-wise I cannot fault this book. The high quality professional editing the author had done shows in clean copy and prose that is a delight to read. A story like this could easily become disjointed and messy, but that is not the case here. The author manages to keep the story moving forward in both realms, maintaining the tie between the worlds, but without it ever being too obvious. The worlds do not just reflect each other – that would be predictable and unimaginative – they also enrich each other. When we put the worlds together we get to know Frank in his entirety, i.e on the outside and in his innermost psyche. The parallels between the gardener and the physical therapist also work in the same way.
All up, this is a book that deserves to be read. It is both gritty reality and magical fantasy, and filled with both love and beauty, and ugliness and despair, but ultimately it is a story of healing, of burying the past, finding hope and taking control of the future.
I’ve read several stories of Iraqi war veterans and this is one of the best. It is certainly the most clever.
A well-deserved 5 stars.