A century after the collapse of the United States as we know it a young hero rises through the ranks and attempts to resurrect the knowledge of his ancestors. The story is told by Adam in the first person, but he declares right at the start that he intends it as a biography of his friend, known as Julian the Agnostic or Julian the Conqueror.
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In the post-oil and post climate change 22nd century civilization has reverted technologically and the United States has collapsed and returned to a semi-Victorian society. There a state religion, a rigid cast system and indentured servitude and the presidency is inherited.
At the start of the story seventeen year old Julian has been sent to Athabaska to hide him from his uncle, the president of the United States. Deklan Comstock is terrified of a coup and has had Julian's father killed since he was next in the line of succession.
In Athabaska Julian soon becomes friends with Adam, whose father is an indentured bondsman and belongs to a minority Christian sect and is therefore a bit of an outcast himself. The boys bond over their mutual love of reading and books.
Julian's father Bryce was best friends with a man named Sam Godwin, who promised him he would look after his son. Seeing the boys get along so well, and wanting to expand Julian's worldview Sam asks to take Adam on as a student alongside Julian. Despite some trepidation over the class difference, Adam's parents agree.
Deklan Comstock issues a general conscription to fight the Germans in their colony in Labrador, partly in an effort to ensure Julian will be found once he enlists and can be sent to be killed.
Suspecting Sam, Julian, and Adam head east. They buy black market passage on a railcar only to find that the men who sold them their fares have sold them to a press gang and they're going to end up in the army anyway. To avoid detection Julian gives his surname as Commongold.
Due to Sam's veteran status, and his training of the boys, the three rise through the ranks quickly. At the front Julian's intelligence and bravery make him a war hero and popular with his men.
Adam meets a journalist named Theodore Dornwood, who has brought a typewriter to the front. Adam is fascinated by the machine and Dornwood. Adam confesses that he wants to be writer himself and is writing adventure stories. Dornwood points out that Adam has experienced his own adventures as a soldier and suggests he should write those down instead.
While on leave he meets a woman named Calyxa, who sings in the church. Adam helps her escape from her brother, who mean her harm, and the two begin a relationship. After the the fighting ends and the men are discharged, Adam and Calyxa wed and they all set out together for New York.
When they arrive there they are astonished to find banners welcoming Captain Julian Commongold, the hero of Labrador. It turns out Theodore Dornwod has been selling Adam's stories to New York papers under his own name, and Julian is famous. Soon his true identity is revealed putting them all at terrible risk.
The group remains at the house of Julian's mother, and eventually receive word from the president. Julian has been invited to the presidential palace for a commendation, his popularity is protecting him for now.
Adam confronts Dornwood about his plagiarism, and with Julian as a witness he gets the man to apologize in front of his bosses, the promise of a retraction, and most importantly the ownership of the typewriter.
Dinner with the president is tense but ends with Deklan declaring that he is sending his heroic nephew to lead the troops at Newfoundland. It is a suicide mission, clearly intended to get rid of his troublesome nephew.
The campaign is brutal, and Sam loses an arm. Julian loses hope after the slog continues and there seems no end to it. He is wounded and despairing when word comes that the campaign is over, his uncle has been deposed. Reports of the hopeless campaign and Julian's bravery have filtered back and there has been a coup. Julian is now president.
Adam settles down with Calyxa, becomes a published novelist, and they have a daughter. He helps Julian finally make the movie he always wanted to, and Julian finds solace in this side task as his presidential reforms cause controversy and his popularity dips.
After an assassination attempt Julian has his uncle executed and his severed head displayed on a pike. He moves against the Dominion, the state sponsored church, and liberalizes laws on censorship and other matters.
As a pox sweeps through the city word comes in of a rebel army on the way of Dominion supporters. The friends are at the screening of Julian's movie, and Adam and Calyxa move quickly forward with previously laid plans for escape to France. Julian has vanished, though, and left a note telling them to go on without them.
Adam hunts for his friend and finally finds him hiding out with his friend Magnus, whom he has grown close to. Julian reveals why he is not escaping; he has contracted the deadly pox.
The rest of the group escape to France where Adam becomes a successful writer. Julian's movie eventually gets smuggled out, and news from the US suggests that the Dominion is weakened and that Julian's successor has continued some of his legacy of openness and forward thinking.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's a neat combination of post-apocalyptic story, 19th century adventure novel, and political treatise. But it's also very funny and sweet.
Best scene in story:
I like when Adam first meets Calyxa, she's on the run from her evil brothers and Adam finds himself swept up in events. She's very feisty and they make a good match.
Opinion about the main character:
Adam is naive and sweet, and using him as your point of view character Wilson manages to sneak all sorts of humor in with things that he misunderstands or go over his head. But he still is very likeable.