(cover shot from FantasticFiction)
Eric Flint's 1632 series of alternate history examines the world-shaking results when a small town in West Virginia is suddenly transported to 1632 Germany, in the middle of the Thirty Years' War.
1632 is a perfect example of Flint's typically optimistic attitude. The Americans of Grantville are mostly very decent people dedicated to our nation's fundamental principles, including freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. Even when they disagree, they work together to do what is right. (This hardly seems plausible today, but note that the series began a decade ago, before the complete lunacy of recent years.)
And his 17th Century Germans are ambitious and, mostly, eager for democracy. There's plenty of conflict, yes. But the series is inspiring. (Too bad it's just fiction, huh?)
The series was developed from the beginning as a shared universe, and many different authors have written or co-written stories about hundreds of characters. Of course, not all of the books and stories are of equal quality, but it really is a fascinating world with very appealing characters.
The series started with 1632 and then 1633. But as the effect of the miraculous event spreads throughout Europe, and affects more and more people, different threads have started to follow specific people in different parts of the continent. So there have been several novels set in each of the following two years.
One very successful thread has been set in Italy, starting with 1634: The Galileo Affair and continuing with 1635: The Cannon Law, both by Eric Flint and Andrew Dennis. Another thread, most recently in 1635: The Dreeson Incident, by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce, has been far less successful, overly full of minor characters who are difficult to keep straight.
This particular thread follows 1632, 1633, and then 1634: The Baltic War, so those are the only novels you really must read first. In the latter book, John George of Saxony betrayed King Gustav Adolph, and in this one, he pays the price. The army, with Mike Stearns now a brand-new general (as expected, he lost the election and is no longer Prime Minister) and Jeff Higgens a captain who's just as green, invades Saxony and then continues on to Poland.
For the most part, this book follows major characters, and there's no problem keeping them straight. It's an easy, entertaining read, too. However, it's basically just one long setup for an incident at the very end of the book, a history-changing event which apparently sets up the next book in the series - 1636: The Saxon Uprising - which has not yet been published (and probably other novels, too).
The better books in the series, like 1634: The Galileo Affair, are pretty much complete in themselves. Even though the story continues later (as history always does), those books have satisfying endings of their own. 1635: The Eastern Front isn't like that. It's just part of a story. If you're a fan of the series, you'll want to read it, but don't expect too much. As I say, the whole thing just sets up the major incident at the end.
On the one hand, that makes this book somewhat disappointing. But it's a lot better than the recent DeMarce books (going by what I've read of them, anyway). And it sets up a new conflict - at least one - which sounds quite intriguing. There's always a struggle in any series to keep finding new things to say. This particular event has the potential to stir things up, creating new problems and new opportunities. So I'll be anxious to see where the story goes from here.
Note that there's a continuing hint that the Ottoman Empire might be planning to invade Europe, too. And there's still the situation in Italy, which was left in disaster at the end of 1635: The Cannon Law. For four years now, I've been waiting for that particular thread to continue. So this series still seems to have a lot of life left in it.
If you're a fan of this series, you'll want to read this book - if not now, then before the next in the series is published. If you're not familiar with the series, read 1632 first. It's really lots of fun.