The Legend of Reading: Books to the Past
I swear I read stuff that’s not from the Ring of Fire series. Just, y’know, not lately.
The Tangled Web, by Virginia DeMarce
This was a real step up from 1635: The Dreeson Incident.
I think there are some fundamental flaws in DeMarce’s writing. She enjoys referring to events in the other books, but often does it in a way that distracts and detracts from the current book. She introduces too many characters and poorly differentiates them. She’ll come up with juicy scenes and undercuts the tension.
And yet… this one works. I got invested. Some of the characters really grabbed me, particularly a private courier and a nobleman in the army, And when she gets dark, it’s really compelling.
1635: The Eastern Front, by Eric Flint
Back to the main series!
Michael Stearns has had an eventful few years since 1632. He’s gone from union president in a coal mine to the Prime Minister of the newly-formed United States of Europe. Unfortunately, he lost his re-election (as expected), and now he’s a general in the army, just in time to invade the rebel provinces of Saxony and Brandenburg.
This is a lot like 1633, in that this and its sequel are really two halves of a larger whole. The main storyline is about Stearns and his new military career, but it spends a lot of time deepening the world and letting us understand how it works.
It ends with USE Emperor Gustavus launching an ill-advised invasion of Poland, and becoming incapacitated after a disastrous battle. Can the USE survive without him as its monarch?
Also, it needs to be said that Flint is a much, much better writer than DeMarce. Dag.
1636: The Saxon Uprising, by Eric Flint
After an ending like that, I had to jump straight to the next one.
The USE is in political crisis. Without the emperor in charge, the nobility have seized control of the democratically-elected government. Some provinces are on their side, others are outraged. The armed forces are officially neutral — it’s a bad precedent, having the military decide who’s in power. And after all, there’s still the war with Poland.
There’s an underlying class conflict in these books. The Americans have introduced radical ideas like democracy, religious freedom, and rule of law. This is the first real counterattack by the upper crust, and there’s no guarantee these changes can survive with Stearns and Gustavus out of power.
I compared this earlier to 1634: The Baltic War. That book slowed down to a snail’s pace. but this one simmers all the way through ‘til the dramatic conclusion. Flint is really good at writing politics. It’s a banger.
Ring of Fire II, by Eric Flint and others
This is when I should’ve shelved these books and moved on to something else. Instead I picked up the second story collection.
I liked the first one a lot. This isn’t as good, but it’s fine. The only stinker in the collection is one that relies heavily on a previous story I hadn’t read, and I couldn’t buy into the character’s internal conflict over whether she should change her last name because it turns out her father was actually so and son.
Yep, it was a Virginia DeMarce story. This predates the book I praised earlier. I kept reading in the hopes that it would get better, but no.
The final novelette, by Eric Flint, takes that character and tells a good story. Flint is a much better writer than DeMarce. Dag.