Title: The Professor’s Assistant
Author: Bren Christopher
Publisher: Self Published
Cover Artist: Amanda Kelsey
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Time-Travel
Length: Novella (52 pdf pages)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: Agent Julian Blake travels to an alternate reality to inquire about a time machine, and finds love with a brilliant young scientist.
The Blurb: Lured by rumors of a momentous invention, Agent Julian Blake steps into the New York Gate and emerges outside London. It is the same year, 1885, but an Earth parallel to his own. The two timelines are almost identical, but the slight variation is enough to threaten his mission as it includes an attitude toward same-sex attraction that is less than accepting.
He never expected that difference to pose a problem. Julian has an important mission to complete; a mission with far-reaching consequences not only across the alternate Earths, but into their pasts. For the momentous invention is a working time machine. And the inventor’s assistant is a beautiful, auburn-haired young man named Daniel who causes Julian to disregard the Department rules he has lived by for so long.
But there are others interested in the professor’s new invention, and when tragedy strikes, the professor’s lovely assistant might just be the only person left alive with the knowledge to recreate the device.
Now Daniel is a target, and Julian is in a race to protect him and retrieve the knowledge of the time machine from those who would misuse it.
Every time a very important decision in history is made, a new timeline forms, creating a parallel reality. While this fact is obviously common knowledge in some realities, others remain oblivious.
In Julian’s world, the Department is a New York based agency which watches parallel timelines, sending agents to other worlds if something threatens to destabilise the equilibrium. Like the time machine Professor Hayley invents in a world which is only slightly different from Julian’s own, apparently mostly in its view of same-sex relationships which in Julian’s world are accepted, but not in the parallel world. Even though Julian is gay, he doesn’t think this will cause any problems with his mission since he is a trained and seasoned agent who should be able to control his instincts. But when he meets young Daniel at the London Institut of Sciences, Julian’s self -control is immediately blown to pieces. He has to get to know the young man better.
By chance, Daniel is Professor Hayley’s assistant; thus, Julian is granted his wish while pursuing his mission. Over the course of the next few days, a tentative relationship builds between the young scholar and the undercover agent. Then a mysterious couple, the Blanchards, show suspicious interest in the time machine. Although Julian calls his fellow agent Cassandra to help, they can’t prevent a crucial part of the time machine from falling into the Blanchards’s hands while the machine itself is destroyed. Since Professor Hayley dies in the course of this, Daniel is the only person who could possibly rebuilt the time machine, aside from Professor Dubois, a Frenchman and colleague of Professor Hayley’s. On top of this, Julian and Cassandra become aware that there must be a traitor somewhere in their own agency since Cassandra’s cover with the Blanchards had immediately blown.
Julian keeps Daniel close, partly to keep him safe, but also because he has developed deep feelings for the young man by now. In spite of that, Julian still hesitates to entrust the true nature of his mission to Daniel. Hurt and disappointed, Daniel leaves Julian’s side, only to be promptly kidnapped by the Blanchards and the traitor. When the kidnappers catch Julian and Cassandra too, Daniel and Dubois have no choice than to rebuild the time machine which the Blanchards want for themselves. During their shared captivity, Julian finally confides in Daniel.
Once the time machine is finished, the kidnappers demand a demonstration, chosing Julian as their guinea pig, and suddenly Julian finds his life depending solely on Daniel’s scientific skills.
There’s a great many things going on in the not so many pages of this story. The worldbuilding took much room, and I found it successfully done both regarding the parallel — timelines concept and the steampunk setting. Many details were lovingly drawn out, for example the steam cycles, and the airships. Another big portion of this book was dedicated to the erotic scenes between Julian and Daniel, which were detailed and fraught with emotion.
Due to the shortness of the format, something had to give, though, and to me this was the characterization. Both characters were sympathetic enough, they had some good dialogues and were given time and space for the development of their relationship. Yet, in spite of the alternating viewpoints, which should have allowed to get into both heroes’s heads, and the elaborated love scenes, I couldn’t really relate to the characters. This includes the secondary cast, who to me remained sketchy. I also had logic problems with the traitor, who was supposedly from Julian’s timeline, and allied with the Blanchards who were from another parallel world. His motives never became clear to me. This might be only me, though; my issues might not bother other readers.
All in all this was an entertaining story, with an interesting premise and a nicely done steampunk setting.