I purchased these books for review on Rosie’s Book Reviews.
Harald Johnson has written three novels about Neanderthals about a science journalist’s time travel to 40,000 years ago. Here I review the first two.
One has to suspend belief when reading anything concerning time travel, but the science woven into these books by the author is compelling and based on real findings. Johnson has written fun and fact-based fantasies.
Neander: Tim Cook, a science writer couldn’t ask for a better life. He is participating in a once-in-a-lifetime dig in a cave occupied millennia ago by Neanderthals on Gibraltar, where in fact some of the last surviving of their kind live and which is home to one of the first Neanderthal fossil discoveries. Tom’s pregnant fiancée is with him and they are looking forward to becoming a family. Then the fiancée is lost to an unexplained boat explosion and his world crumbles. While searching for her body in the ocean, he drops into a time portal and emerges 40,000 earlier into the Gibraltar of that day, occupied by Neanderthals.
The first book concerns his adaptation to life with them, learning their language and customs and teaching them English and some aspects of life in the future, such as gardening. He discovers these archaic humans are not what he expected and he struggles with the decision to improve their lives and perhaps their duration as a people, beyond what is currently accepted. Should he do this and change history? The Neanders, as he calls them, are a varied group, and the author creates them as very real and colorful characters. I enjoyed this first book enormously and immediately went on to read the second. The cover for the book is exceptional!
In Neander: Exploitation, five years have passed and Tom is living with his Neander family, having chosen a woman as his mate and having had a daughter. But now he faces another life-altering decision: his daughter has epilepsy and he must travel back to the future to get her the medical help she needs. What he finds is a modern world very different from the one he’d known, and he is caught up in a plan by the CEO of a big pharmaceutical company to exploit his daughter’s unique DNA for modern cures.
I found this second book was not quite as satisfying as the first. The characters are a little less relatable – although the author’s descriptions remain colorful and realistic – and the plot is tortuous. The interaction between modern man and their distant predecessors (we contain up to 8% Neanderthal DNA) is predictable – avarice balanced with caring.
I had a bit of a problem with the concept that Neanderthals were completely peaceful while the Sapiens they encountered were brutal and cannibalistic. Nevertheless, the author does describe their integration, as recent genetic studies have revealed. But some of Tom’s decisions had me asking, “Why are you doing this?”
While the first book and the beginning of the second are written from Tom’s first-person perspective, thereafter third-person points of view become interspersed with Tom’s narrative. This challenged me initially but I can see where it was necessary for plot development. I appreciated that Johnson manages to incorporate the butterfly effect and also some of the latest genetic tools, such as CRISPR, with understandable explanations.
With more pluses than minuses, this second book kept me reading on and I am looking forward to reading the third book in the series, Neander: Evolution. I think this series will have great appeal to all fans of prehistory and time travel.
About the author (Amazon):
Harald Johnson is an author of both fiction and nonfiction, a publisher, and a lifelong swimmer—who actually swam nonstop around New York’s Manhattan island. His debut novel (New York 1609, 2018) was the first-ever to explore the birth of New York City (and Manhattan) from its earliest beginnings. His most recent novel series plunges the reader back 40,000 years to the age of Neanderthals. And back!
Harald loves standing in—or imagining—important places and eras in history and drifting back through the timestream to re-experience them. In the present, he lives with his wife deep in the woods of central Virginia.
You can find the author:
On twitter: @AuthorHarald
On his website: https://haraldjohnson.com
You can find Harald Johnson’s books on Amazon: