I haven’t kept up the pace I need for 50 Books Read in 2018. I have nothing to blame but myself and Skyrim. After all these years, I still get back into it from time to time. This time around, I’ve learned the joy of mods, fan made packages that alter, fix, or somewhat change the game for the better (mostly, assuming you get them to work on install). It started with my desire to find the right home for all my stuff. I found a great one called Riverwood Manor that has displays for many of the special items you can earn in the game, plus lots of different rooms (even an eight story tower). Now I’m adding mods that change some of the visuals, modify quests, and even add cloaks. Way too much fun.
However, I do manage to keep up with audiobooks due to my commute (still waiting to hear about the job I applied for internally, which might alter that commute a little, at least in terms of timing). Looking for something “new”, I settled on 1632 by Eric Flint. I’d known about this series for a long time, and while I love time travel, I hadn’t been terribly excited about a book revolving around a West Virginia town suddenly transported to the 30-Years War in Germany.
Boy, was I an idiot.
The first book was amusing and quite good. I’m not going to give too many spoilers here, but it does a great job of introducing us to the characters, setting up some conflicts, and dumping us right into the period. I could have done without the “half of the people they meet speak English well enough to converse” hand wavery stuff, but meh… a town leaped through time and space four centuries, so I can overlook THAT little detail.
Overall on a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 7. Good story, fun characters, interesting time period chosen. Where it fell off for me was that the Americans with their modern weapons (they even have a town power plant, so still have electricity and working phones) and vehicles have little trouble imposing their meager forces into the war with spectacular successes. It didn’t feel terribly challenging.
1633 fixed that. In a big way. The new United States (of Grantsville I suppose) now established and allied with a powerful European faction is faced with other European powers who, aware of this new danger and haven stolen history books from them to learn what the future might mean for them, ally against the Americans and their friends. In the meantime, the Americans are trying to forget additional alliances, unaware of what’s happening.
It’s a much more intricate plot than the first novel. There are political maneuvers galore, famous people from history who show up, and a real growing sense that the new America, while technologically powerful for its small size, is going to be swamped under by the rest of Europe and wiped off the map. The tension is much higher, the stakes much greater, and the overall mood a bit more bleak. That makes the successes a much better pay off in the end.
One of the major characters our lead character, Mike Sterns, had conflicts with gets resolved through the course of the novel, and I have to say this particular relationship was pretty deftly handled. The growth felt natural for both individuals, not shoehorned in. Enough change to be believable, but not so much we screw up our faces and shut the book.
There’s a lot of wonderful humor, too. Mixing modern American sensibilities with 17th century European ones, while trying to recreate your nation, leads to some pretty funny moments. Not enough to distract from the drama, but enough to really pull me into the narrative. And given the later portion of the novel when war kicks into high gear and lives are at stake, it helps to leaven the drama perfectly.
For most folks, these are war novels. They’re going to be reading them for the “what if” of modern American technology fighting against 17th century technology. Massive armies with crude matchlocks versus small American forces with semi-autos and a heavy machine gun. Sailing ships versus Chris Craft and power cruisers with mounted rockets. It “felt” like the authors did a fantastic job here and really knew their stuff when it came to 17th century warfare. It’s easier to fake the modern stuff with a little bit of knowledge, but the depth of information about the tactics of various European forces, their weapons, etc, feels pretty authentic to me. I’m no great judge of those things, though, and all I can say is I found it the battle sequences believable and engrossing.
I don’t want to say too much more. 1632 is a fun book, but 1633 is the better novel, and I’ve now downloaded the first of the several 1634 novels and will start reading those (with so much going on in so many different parts of Europe, it looks like the author(s) decided to split things up into various novels).
1633 gets 9 out of 10 from me. An enjoyable read, some real connection with 17th century history (though this new world is changing rapidly thanks to the influence of the new Americans), and a great (and sometimes even a little moving) read.