(cover image from Amazon.com)
Obviously, 1636: The Kremlin Games is another in Eric Flint's long 1632 series of alternate history. I've reviewed four of these books previously, and if you're not familiar with the series at all, you might want to read this one.
As I noted there, this series has developed different threads, following a storyline in one part of Europe, with certain characters, as events take place simultaneously elsewhere, with different characters. That's one of the reasons for the dates in the titles.
This particular storyline is unique, in that it's set in Russia. Now, if you're a fan of the series (and if not, you should at least read 1632 and 1633 first), you might be familiar with much of this from the Grantville Gazette anthologies.
In those fan-fiction publications, Georg Huff and Paula Goodlett wrote a series of linked short stories which have now been revised and compiled, with co-author and series creator Eric Flint, into a novel. (Keep in mind that the 1632 series has been a shared universe pretty much from the beginning. There have been many different stories by many different authors.)
I've heard criticism by some people that they'd read all this before. And I've heard criticism by others that they'd changed the original stories. Since I gave up on the Grantville Gazettes after awhile, myself (there are apparently a whopping 42 of them now!), I really can't say. The vast majority of this was new to me, at least.
Despite the date on the cover, The Kremlin Games starts in 1631, not long after the modern West Virginia town of Grantville arrived in Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years War. But it follows different characters, mostly Russian, as they adapt to such a momentous event.
The main up-time character, Bernie Zeppi, is drifting into alcoholism and doesn't seem like a particularly admirable person, at first. Or, rather, he seems lost, unable to cope with the changes in his own life. But successful up-timers aren't exactly eager to relocate to 17th Century Moscow, so Bernie seems to be the best Russia can do.
At the least, Bernie is friendly and willing. And when he encounters his first typhoid epidemic, it becomes more than just a job to him. Bernie really tries to do his best. But he ends up teaching more than he expects. Bernie's attitude tends to rub off on the people who surround him. And in 17th Century Russia, that becomes a real problem.
It's an entertaining story, and an easy, lightweight read. I read the whole thing in one day. It certainly held my attention, and it was lots of fun.
On the plus side, these were entirely different characters and a different setting from the rest of the books in this series (assuming that you haven't read the Grantville Gazette stories about them, at least).
That's a real strength in this 1632 shared universe. Some of the story threads have been more successful than others - these are, after all, by multiple authors - but we keep seeing new things. Russia isn't Germany, isn't Italy, isn't England. New characters, new settings, and new problems keep the series fresh.
At the same time,... it's still rather similar. These might be new problems, and they're definitely new characters, but they're not altogether unique. I guess I just have trouble being as enthused about any of the later books in the series as I was about the first ones.
They're still enjoyable. They're still fun. I'm still buying them in hardcover, in fact, not willing to wait for a paperback copy. But no matter what, we've still seen most of this before. It's been a long series, after all.
If you're a fan of the series, and haven't gotten tired of the whole thing, I'm sure you'll want to read this book. It's lots of fun. It's just that, for better and for worse, it's series fiction that's been going on for a long time now.
I'm still enjoying these books, but they're never going to be as fresh as the first books in the series. Different people will have different tolerances for that sort of thing, so you'll have to judge your own reaction to series fiction yourself.
Oh, one last thing: they're almost certainly planning a sequel to this, I expect. Of course, this is alternate history. As history doesn't have an end, neither do these stories, exactly. But some of them do end better than others.
This one doesn't end with a cliff-hanger, but... it leaves a lot of things up in the air. I expect a sequel, even though the book wouldn't actually require one. I guess we'll see.
I might add that I'd welcome a sequel, because I didn't see the end of this one coming, and I'm very curious how it might all turn out. I guess that's not a bad reaction to series fiction, is it? :)