Review by D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer Midwest Book Review
Dark Trades
Ken Harris
Warren Publishing
978-1-943258-40-6 $17.95

It’s 2018, and in an alternate America, the Confederacy defeated the Union in the Civil War and slavery rules. In such a universe, one man’s monotonous and regulated life is filled with helplessness. When his gesture of despair inadvertently becomes a signal for revolution, everything changes.

Alternate history novels are typically reviewed in science fiction sections because much of their action tends to rely on settings that are focus on another world, but Dark Trades is featured under ‘novels’ because its social comments and insights are striking and recommended for novel readers, as well, who might not ordinarily delve into the sci-fi realm.

Its social commentary on slavery, justice, and lives well lived under conditions which are ‘incubators’ for human beings, overseen by Admins who regulate every aspect of a slave’s life with an eye to beneficial results for maximum production, offers striking food for thought.

As protagonist Harrison’s questions and doubts translate neatly into social revolution, the story becomes a powerful commentary on courage, action and inaction, and the forces by which social change is fostered: even important messages for modern American readers than they would have been had this book appeared only a few years ago.

Dialogue supports this process as Harrison moves from a slave to a free man, taking uncertain steps as he absorbs new possibilities created by his actions: “I replied to him, “Well, what have I done? I’m just a lowly slave…I mean, black man,” I corrected myself, unused to the new title. “I
didn’t really do anything.” Chris responded, “You’ve done more than you could imagine. Your actions have been an inspiration. It took a lot of courage to do what you did.”

Especially pointed are the observations of and connections between individual choice and social outcome – something most novels, let alone alternative history sci-fi, don’t adequately incorporate.

Dark Trades will reach audiences who enjoy novels that create powerful protagonists, then set their personal lives and decisions within the wider realm of social and political transformation. America has voted for a black man in our world – can it do so again, in a future long ruled by domination? Dark Tradesasks many important questions as Harrison navigates new possibilities and, in so doing, brings novel, sci-fi and alternative history readers into a social milieu which is politically, socially and emotionally striking.

Through Harrison’s process, readers are led to question their own beliefs, ‘overseers’, regulations, and the controls that hold together the very fabric of society. How Harrison moves from helping another realize his dream to stepping into place as a revolution’s leader makes for a gripping read that’s hard to put down. It’s especially recommended for social and political inquirers who will appreciate the focus on social and political connections to personal choices and growth in a repressive, hopeless world.