(cover shot from Amazon.com)
In my review of 1635: The Eastern Front, I noted that it seemed to be one long setup for the next book in the series. Well, that's this one. The two books together create a distinct storyline.
Of course, this is a long series of alternate history, so there isn't just one story. There are threads of many stories weaving together. And as history doesn't end, these books don't have "they lived happily ever after" endings, either (although there is a clear resolution of the particular issue in this book). Characters die, but there are always new characters. It really is a remarkable achievement.
As I explained in my previous review, you don't want to start in the middle with this series. But you don't necessarily have to read every book leading up to this one, either. There are certain main threads, with certain recurring characters, and a knowledge of what's going on elsewhere in Europe is nice, but not required.
This novel, 1636: The Saxon Uprising, is a direct sequel to 1635: The Eastern Front. The incident at the end of the latter book sets up a constitutional crisis in the United States of Europe, a crisis that threatens to become a full-fledged civil war.
As usual, this novel is chock-full of characters, most of whom we've met before. But it's easy to keep track of the major characters, if you're at all familiar with the 1632 series (and if you're not, you shouldn't be starting here).
It's not really necessary to keep track of the minor characters, though that's not overly difficult, either. Well, there are some really minor characters - Flint does a good job of showing how these political problems affect everyone - but don't worry about trying to remember names and places. He's a remarkably skilled author when it comes to things like this.
Well, I must say that I'm filled with admiration for the whole 1632 series. The individual books in the series, by various authors (most, but not all, co-written with Eric Flint), vary in quality. But in general, it's really fascinating and superbly entertaining. I didn't foresee the events described in these two books. Indeed, that's the whole point of this sudden crisis. But it's a perfect development story-wise.
At a time of intense partisanship in America, this book shows how reasonable people resolve issues (and how unreasonable people do). The value of the rule of law - and the necessity of political compromise - are clearly demonstrated. At the same time, rational people can't just roll over and play dead. You have to stand for something, and you have to be skilled at promoting what you believe.
The characters here are facing a remarkable situation. Well, that's the advantage of science fiction. This isn't actually going to happen. People aren't going to find themselves suddenly transported to 1632 Germany. But by examining an alternate history, Flint can show us how good people might react to an unexpected event. Plus, it's a rollicking good story, too.
Flint's characters were very fine people to begin with - much better Americans than we actually are, I'm afraid. They aren't supermen, but they're generally very capable and very likable. But they also grow. They find themselves in situations that require personal growth, or at least encourage it. And with Flint's optimistic attitude, they rise to the challenge.
In this case, Mike Stearns continues to apply his leadership skills to his new job as general. Jeff Higgins, a very green captain in the previous book (and just a fat high school geek in 1632), becomes a very effective colonel in this one. And countless other characters grow as well.
In an afterward, Eric Flint talks about the timeline in the 1632 series, and in what order they should be read. But he also talks about the future of the series. Ring of Fire III is the next book scheduled to appear in print. It's an anthology, like the previous two volumes by that name, but it will contain a story that picks up directly from the end of this book.
There's also very clearly a major event coming, as the Ottoman Empire invades Europe. But the events of 1632 continue to spread, affecting pretty much the entire world. Would you believe the Japanese colonizing the west coast of North America? Yeah, this is not going to be the same history we're taught in school. (Apparently, there's going to be a novel set among the Iroquois, too. But Flint says the working title, 1636: Drums Along the Mohawk, is not how it will be published.)
There are existing story threads getting sequels, as well. 1635: The Papal States will continue one of my very favorite storylines, as it's the direct sequel to 1635: The Cannon Law. I can't wait for that one! And 1635: A Parcel of Rogues will pick up the story of characters left behind in England after their escape from the Tower of London in 1634: The Baltic War.
This is a complicated series. Well, it's a whole world undergoing drastic change (a whole continent, at a minimum), so of course it's complicated. But the individual books aren't complicated, or not overly so. It's just that things are going on everywhere, concurrently. That's the reason for the dates in the titles. They're stories about different people experiencing different events at roughly equal times. Everything is connected together, but no novel can include it all in one book.
It works pretty well, I'd say. And it's a shared alternate history, so it's not just Eric Flint writing stories about it. He does co-author most of the novels, but only a few of the shorter stories.
Anyway, to get back to this book, it's a fine continuation of the 1632 series. I had some qualms about the previous book, but not this one. Indeed, the two books together - which is probably how you should consider them - make an exciting and entertaining story.
PS. As I mentioned before, don't start with this book. But if you're curious about the series, note that the first two books, 1632 and 1633, are available for free download at Baen Books. So is the first volume of the Grantville Gazette, a short story collection set in the 1632 universe, and the first Ring of Fire anthology.
That's very generous, don't you think? You've really got nothing to lose if you want to check them out. (Look under Eric Flint at the Baen Free Library website.)