Redemption is the story of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as adults in the Wild West of America in the late 1800’s. I said in my recent review of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice that I don’t care for books that are based on classic fictional characters. It’s a shortcut, at best (and a desecration of great literature, at worst). Still, I was immersed in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I received this request, so the timing was perfect.
Here’s how it starts:
The last time you heard of me and Tom was in that book Sam Clemens wrote telling of when Jim and me flowed down the Mississippi and met up with the King and the Duke. Then Jim got captured and Tom and I had to set him free… Well, we were twelve years of age when Sam wrote about that. Now Tom and I are a mite older and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.
The story begins with Huck and Tom finding themselves somewhat aimless as adults, so they enlist in the war. When that doesn’t go well, Tom decides to head to California so he can sign on to the next ship sailing for China. But Huck says no, the life of a sailor isn’t for him. Instead, he finds his calling as a sheriff in the lawless West, protecting the innocent and reforming the violent. In his travels he encounters The Laramie Kid, a notorious killer who’s known for walking into towns and challenging the toughest guy there. There’s more to The Kid though – he’s in fact avenging the brutal massacre of sixty American Indians.
Redemption is a well-told adventure story. Joyce clearly admires Twain and has taken great care to make the characters true to Twain’s stories. Tom is the thinker and the leader; Huck has more heart and instinct. As young men, they are true to each other before bowing to society’s expectations. And Joyce does a nice job of illustrating the story with detailed settings that take us from Missouri to California to Hawaii. Only this time, the focus is more the treatment of native populations instead of slavery.
The trouble I had with this book is that while these characters walk and talk much the same as Twain’s Huck and Tom, the story lacks Twain’s biting wit and social commentary. It’s to Joyce’s disadvantage that I read these two books almost side by side. Huck’s journey in the original book is a satire of societal corruption. Along the way Huck finds his strength and his true beliefs. This book didn’t give me that.
Also, the characters were fairly one-dimensional. Huck is always brave and seems to know what to do in every situation. I saw none of the character growth that made Huckleberry Finn such a worthwhile read. Tom is the weakest character in the novel and his love story felt completely without depth. Of course, he’s fairly one dimensional in Huckleberry Finn as well. But I expected more from a book that’s taking iconic characters and growing them into adults.
I found myself thinking, maybe this is just the Western genre and it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. But then I thought about my favorite Western novel, Lonesome Dove, which had all the character development and emotional growth you could ask for. There’s just no comparison here.
Joyce is a good writer and there’s heart in this book; it just wasn’t the book for me.
Note: I received a copy of this book from author Andrew Joyce in exchange for an honest review.