Top positive review
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A new standard in alternate history novels. Excellent.
on 21 May 1999
AGAINST THE TIDE OF YEARS, the second book in S.M. Stirling's Nantucket trilogy, is a riveting, delightful, novel of war on a global scale, of people in love, and of great deeds and high adventure. It is also an exploration of the nature of sacrifice, the concepts of duty and honor, and each person's responsibility for each other. It's not an overstatement to say that along with its predecessor, it sets a new standard in the alternate history genre of SF. It is one hell of a read. In the first novel, ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME, the island of Nantucket off the Massachusetts coast is inexplicably thrown three thousand years back in time. The Coast Guard cutter EAGLE, near Nantucket at the time, goes with it.
The people of the island deal with this miraculous event and start to build a community. Jared Cofflin, the town Sheriff, is made Chief Executive of the small nation. Marian Alston, Captain of the Eagle, heads its armed forces, which everyone thought were not going to be necessary for a while. Then William Walker, a junior Coast Guard officer, steals a ship, weapons, and technology, and takes off for Bronze Age England to make himself king of the world. Nantucket raises an army, travels to England, and defeats him in battle, though he escapes to the mainland with his small group of evil rebels.
In AGAINST THE TIDE OF YEARS, it is eight years later. The fledgling Republic of Nantucket(RON) has achieved economic stability and is pushing into the American continent, while maintaining close relations with the Fiernan and the Sun People of the British Isles. Walker has traveled to Greece, where he's become a favorite noble of King Agamemnon. As Walker's political and military power grows, it becomes clear he's preparing for a war of conquest. The Republic of Nantucket decides it's time to stop their wayward sociopath, even if it means war.
Thus a series of global conflicts begins, in which RON establishes a treaty with Babylon takes part in the siege of Troy, in which Nantucket defends itself on the ground and on the high seas in a pitched naval battle.
The brother-sister team of Kathryn and Kenneth Hollard, career soldiers both, are dispatched to Babylon to offer military aid and instruction. They find themselves quickly mired in a full-scale war as well as the political intrigue of Babylon itself.
While the fighting and the strategy is interesting, the best parts of the book are the living characters who inhabit its heart. Marian Alston and her Fiernan lover Swindapa are complex people. Loving parents, excellent soldiers, deeply committed, and just plain fun. William Walker is a depraved portrait of evil. The truly chilling thing about him is his humanity--he loves his children, he takes care of his people. If he weren't a mass-murdering sociopath, he'd almost be likeable.
As you can tell, AGAINST THE TIDE OF YEARS is a bit complex; it is also a delight for anyone who has ever studied history, for anyone who enjoys a good love story, for anyone who enjoys military strategy, and for anyone who likes a good book. I can't recommend it enough.