Updated: Aug 1, 2020
Independent Book Review‘s excellent review of IT GIVES YOU STRENGTH.
“Spring forward into a futuristic galaxy and far back in time with the historical sci-fi thriller It Gives You Strength
Philip Raymond Brown combines the past and future in his latest novel, It Gives You Strength. Impossible to see coming, this unique adventure will take readers to both a tech-savvy alien world AND to 1920s America. Combining suspense, action, and a few history lessons, this speculative novel from Philip Raymond Brown offers much more than an alien rescue mission.
In order to escape a doomed spaceship, a princess from outer space must transfer her soul into a body on Earth. But she’s going to need saving to bring her back home and sustain the royal family. Years later, an alien named Zho transfers into the body of an alcoholic veteran named Costello on Earth, taking on the task of finding the princess himself. With the added stress of also saving the planet from an inevitable attack, Zho navigates his way through upstate New York, searching for the princess through nearly indecipherable instructions.
After looking at the cover and the first few chapters, readers (like me) will look forward to an exciting journey through the galaxies. However, the bulk of the story ventures back into the 1920s in upstate New York. This is where Zho’s body transfer resides and where his mission begins. Though his mission instructions are partially destroyed during the transfer, he is able to piece together enough to know that he is supposed to find and protect a man named Mike Kelly and his family.
Kelly, a war hero and big-time bootlegger, is also a popular town boxer with dreams of fighting more notable opponents. Zho is known to be well-practiced in his world’s form of boxing, and together they make an unlikely but well-suited pair. The new friends begin to train together to prepare Kelly for the fight of his life, but as you might expect, plenty of obstacles get in the way. While the boxing and prohibition plot may have worked on its own, its place in this particular novel strays too far away from the original goal of finding and saving the princess. For a large portion of this book, it’s easy to forget that finding her was ever even the point as the friendship between Mike and Zho blooms, and as a mobster from a neighboring town becomes a threat. As more of the mission instructions are uncovered, Zho struggles to keep up with his plan and becomes wrapped up in the new world he enters. As a reader, I felt let down that we jumped too far away from the exciting original sci-fi set up.
Though the story turns out to be different than what you’d expect, Brown’s prose undoubtedly captures the reader on the page. He makes the 1920s in upstate New York feel as exciting as an old-time thriller, with gun-wielding big shots, intense rivalries, and the perfect wildcard character. As your grip on the sci-fi world loosens, you’ll still be able to fully engage in the thrilling aspects of the past.
Historical and sports fiction readers will fly through this book, as long as they don’t expect too much from the science fiction cover and set-up.“