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Another good book, and new story arc, in a very mixed series
on 6 May 2013
This is the twelfth book in a series in which a small American town is sent back from around the turn of the millennium to Germany in the middle of the 30 years war. It starts a new story arc set in Russia.
Most of the books in this series are identified with titles which are, or begin with, the 17th century year in which each book starts (e.g. 1632, 1633, etc) and it is sometimes known as the "Ring of Fire" or "Assiti Shards" series. In the case of "1636: the Kremlin Games" the date in the title appears to be that of the climax at the conclusion of the book.
The "Ring of Fire" is how the inhabitants of Grantville described the event which brought their town back 370 years in time and a few thousand miles in space. The Assiti were the race whose thoughtless actions, described in the first book as akin to "criminal negligence," caused that event, though we are told in the first novel in the series that no human will ever learn this.
Some of the books in this series were just written by Eric Flint but most have one or more co-authors such as David Weber. This book has Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett as co-authors. The books in the series differ greatly in their style and focus, and I gather I am not the only reader who enjoyed some of them very much more than others. Five which I particularly enjoyed and can recommend to others can be read in sequence and give an overview of the history of the very different seventeenth century which Grantville's arrival in Germany in the early 1630's creates in the stories.
Eric Flint himselves describes these same five books as the "Main line" or spinal cord of the series to date in the afterword to this volume. They are:
1632 (Ring of Fire)
1634: The Baltic War
1635: The Eastern Front (Ring of Fire)
1636: The Saxon Uprising (Ring of Fire)
The complete list of novels in the series to date is:
3) 1634: The Galileo Affair
4) 1634: The Baltic War
5) 1634: The Bavarian Crisis
6) 1634: The Ram rebellion
7) 1635: The Dreeson Incident
8) 1635: The Cannon Law
9) 1635: The Eastern Front
10) 1635: The Papal Stakes
11) 1636: The Saxon uprising
12) This book, "1636: The Kremlin Games."
I've counted "The Ram rebellion" in this list, though Eric Flint himself describes it as "An oddball volume which has some of the characteristics of an anthology and some of the characteristics of a novel."
There are also several short story/novella collections set in this alternative 17th century including "Ring of Fire," "1635: The Tangled Web" (by Virginia DeMarce) and a number of books in the "Grantville Gazette" series.
Flint has also written a book in which a second similar event hits the 21st century world which Grantville has left behind a few years later, called Time Spike.
This book, "1636: The Kremlin Games" tells the story of how the arrival of Grantville affects a country which had not been a major player in the books to date - a potentially rich but backward nation whose time as one of the two most powerful states in the world in our lifetime lay far in the future, which was beginning to call itself Russia but still known to the rest of the world as Muscovy.
At the start of this book, shortly after Grantville's arrival in the seventeenth century, a delegation from the Russian court, led by Prince Vladimir Gorchacov, comes to Grantville to investigate the impossible rumours of a town from the future on behalf of the fledgling Romanov dynasty. Realising that Russia needs to learn from the new arrivals or face disaster, Prince Vladimir recruits a Grantville mechanic called Bernie Zeppi, to help the team he is setting up to bring modern ideas and technology to Russia.
For the next four years Bernie makes his home in Russia, where he makes friends and finds a purpose in life helping to move Russia forward in more ways than one.
But then a political crisis puts Bernie's adopted country at risk of a crisis which could lead to a new dark age while his new friends, and the woman he loves, are in grave danger of the loss of their lives. And he's not going to take it lying down ...
Without giving away what happens in this book, it appears to be the first in a new sub-series.
If you are interested in what it might be like to find yourself in a more primitive land but with modern knowledge and try to accelerate the pace of growth, as in David Weber's Nimue Alban series which begins with "Off Armageddon Reef" or William Forstchen's "Lost Regiment" series, you will probably love this.
I thought at first that the dates given in this book did not align with those in the first book in the series. I did wonder if this was meant to reflect the historical fact that the Russian calendar at the time this is set was out of synch with western nations, but that discrepancy was a matter of a couple of weeks, and the starting date of this book appears to be a year out: Prince Vladimir arrives in Grantville, some months after the town has appeared in the seventeenth century, in October 1631.
However, when I checked the first book in the series, "1632" to see if I could find the precise date to which the "Ring of Fire" delivered the town, I realised that the title of that book is something of a misnomer. Although there are very few precise dates in it, a careful reading discloses that most of the first book is actually set in 1631, a year before the date implied by the title of the book! So the dates do align.
Halfway through the book "1632," a German mercenary officer is given two days to get out of the territory claimed by Grantville, and the book includes the text of a poster which gives the deadline for him to leave as 5th July 1631. He takes service with the Tsar.
In the first sentence of "1636: the Kremlin Games" Prince Vladimir arrives to see Grantville for himself and says "Apparently Tilly's tercio commander wasn't the liar we thought he was." The timing just about works for this to be the same officer.
I enjoyed reading what Eric Flint called the "main line" stories in the series but didn't like most of the other books nearly so much - until now. "1636: The Kremlin Games" is one of the most interesting and entertaining stories in the series and I recommend it.
If you enjoy this story of a modern community sent back centuries in time, you might also like S.M. Stirling's Nantucket trilogy in which that island is sent even further back by a similar event. The Nantucket trilogy consists of:
Island in the Sea of Time
Against the Tide of Years (Nantucket)
On the Oceans of Eternity (Nantucket).