Review: Rewinder by Brett Battles


About Rewinder

You will never read Denny Younger’s name in any history book, but the world as you know it wouldn’t be the same without him. Denny was born into one of the lowest rungs of society, but his bleak fortunes changed the day the mysterious Upjohn Institute recruited him. The role: “verifier of personal histories.” The job title: Rewinder. After accepting the offer, Denny discovers he’ll have to do his research in person…by traveling through time.

Using a device capable of opening a portal into any era from the past, Denny is sent back to serve as an eyewitness to significant moments in human history. But as he journeys across the centuries, he begins to suspect that his missions to “observe and report” have a much darker purpose. When a time jump drops Denny into the midst of a rebellion, he finds himself in over his head in a deadly game where even the smallest choices can have catastrophic consequences.

Armed only with his wits and his time-travel device, Denny’s adventures take readers on a pulse-pounding journey of page-turning twists. But will everything he’s got be enough?

About the Author

Brett Battles is the Barry Award–winning author of more than twenty novels, including the Jonathan Quinn series, the Project Eden series, and the Alexandra Poe series, the latter of which he wrote with Robert Gregory Browne. He lives in Los Angeles. Learn more about him at

My Thoughts

Denny Younger isn't from around here... A Level Eight resident of New Cardiff in the American territories of the British Empire in 2015, Younger is among the most recent of recruits to the Upjohn Institute. His job as a rewinder is to verify the familial lineages of their clients through observation. As a rewinder, Younger is, simply put, a time traveler. During one rewind mission, he makes a simple mistake that forever alters the course of the British Empire and finds the landscape of 2015 remarkably different.

While Rewinder is a compelling story, it's not entirely without fault. And although I enjoyed it quite a bit, there were a few hangups in the narrative that nagged at me.

First, the good: I truly dug the alt-timeline approach that Battles takes, establishing Younger and his compatriots as citizens of the British Empire. It's a well realized world and an interesting setting, one that provides an intriguing jumping off point for what follows.

I also really enjoyed the relationship between Younger and Iffy, the actually American-American girl, that he finds himself attached to after his temporal mishap alters the shape of history. At first, she comes across as strange and aloof and more than a bit stalker-ish, but as their story together develops there's a grounded in-story explanation for her behaviors and what Younger means to her. Their burgeoning love comes across as natural and ended up being one of the more intriguing elements of the book's latter half.

On the topic of companionship then, the one element that felt really half-baked and never quite had me convinced of its authenticity was the issue of companions. Each rewinder has a companion that stays put in their home time, and whose sole job is suffer the painful effects caused by time travel. So while the rewinder gallivants through the eras largely unhindered, there's a companion at the Institute doped up on painkillers to minimize the debilitating migraines, nausea, and associated sicknesses for them. Sure, it's an interesting concept and the illnesses that go hand-in-hand with the unnatural travels seem like a natural fit, the idea of companions themselves never seem to make much sense. Brett Battles asks us to simply believe that the mechanical devices rewinders use for their travels is somehow able to lock on a particular DNA match to pass off the ill effects. The technological gobbledygook is kept to a minimum, and Younger glosses over it with a "I'm no scientist!" approach, but I found myself wanting to actually know the scientific ins and outs of all this. Without a grounded explanation, the idea simply feels incomplete and exists solely to cause drama later on (but even then, it's never explored as fully as it should be). As it stands, I never felt truly convinced that this notion of companions would actually work or that there is any actual scientific basis for it.

That said, the issue of companions does tie nicely into the caste system the British world operates on. On the other hand, it never grows beyond the superficial. As a Level Eight, Younger is pretty close to the bottom of the heap and we're reminded of this quite a bit. While his isn't quite a rags-to-riches story, I would have appreciated more depth to the British Empire depicted here. I found myself very interested in the rules and operations of this alternate timeline, but got very little in the way of depth and exploration. Most of the problem stems from the first-person narration, which prohibits what we as readers are allowed to know and witness. We're confined solely to Younger's experiences, and I found myself desperately wanting to break away from him in order to explore the world.

It doesn't help much that his temporal mistake results in making "our" world a reality. I already know about this world, so it's rather difficult to share Younger's fascination with our mobile phones and the wide variety of "carriages" or what we call automobiles. While I can appreciate his status as an outsider, it makes for some boring narration. I already know about cell phones and cars and 7-Elevens. What I don't know about is New Cardiff and the whole spectrum of alternate history that made the British a global empire. There's a far more interesting story buried in Battle's narrative that we're never made privy to, and it's frustrating. It's all superficial gloss laid over a truly interesting concept that never quite develops as richly as it should.

And although I had a few issues with Rewinder, and found myself more than once wishing for an alternate timeline edition of this story, I still found myself largely engaged enough to enjoy it. Most of this comes down to the characters and a few mysteries they represent, namely Maria, another rewinder and mentor to Younger, and Iffy, whose time on the page was always entertaining. Enough so that I'll be diving into Destroyer, book two in this series, momentarily.

[I received this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]


Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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