Eric Flint’s 1636: The Saxon Uprising picks right up after the events of 1635: The Eastern Front. If you haven’t picked up by now, the 163x series is a very long, expanded series which is almost a shared universe now (thanks in no small part to the offerings of the Grantville Gazette and Flint’s other coauthors) and is very, very detailed. Quite a few people have asked where to start, to which I always reply “1632“. But this isn’t about 1632, nor the subsequent novels. This review is about 1636: The Saxon Uprising.
The book starts off with the King of Sweden, Gustav II Adolphus, muttering incoherently and not entirely sure of his surroundings. He has suffered a grievous injury during a battle in 1635: The Eastern Front. As I mentioned previously, 1635: The Eastern Front was (to me) nothing more than the expanded prologue for 1636: The Saxon Uprising. But the King is not aware, therefore making his Chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, the lead advisor for the current prime minister, Wilhem Wettin. Axel, seeing a chance to restore the aristocracy to its place of power (something that the arrival of the Americans in war-torn Germany nearly put a complete stop to), he subsequently uses Wettin to stir up the nobility and kicks off a not-quite civil war.
The Poles, meanwhile, are in an extended fight with the USE (United States of Europe) thanks to King Gustav’s desire to reclaim much of the land Poland grabbed the last time they went to war with one another. Stanislaw Koniecpolski, the Grand Hetman and military commander of the Polish Army, doesn’t really want to fight but is more than willing to defend Poland from foreign invaders. Down south, Murad IV (Murad the Mad) has retaken Baghdad and is looking to invade Austria. So pretty much the entirety of Europe is sitting on a lit powder keg (as it was before the Americans mysteriouly showed up).
Meanwhile, former prime minister Michael Stearns is leading his army off to war, leaving behind his capable wife Rebecca to deal with the burgeoning crisis. Or so everyone thinks. For despite being a superb politician, Mike is somewhat of a prophet, and clearly figured that splitting his army up to return to the Germanies the moment he received word that Axel was doing something illegal. This all hinged on the crown princess Christina and her betrothed, Ulrik of Denmark, escaping Sweden and making their way to Magdeburg.
Confused yet? Yeah, I was too actually.
I’ve read just about every 163x book out there (save for a few collaborations), and the primary character, Mike Stearns, has gone from savvy union coordinator and former boxer to elderly statesman with Nostradamus-like “guesses”. I actually was unable to suspend my disbelief here, because the idea that Mike is always right and always in the perfect position to take advantage of something he shouldn’t know what people are going to do blew me out of the story.
The idea that Mike could accurately predict every single event leading up to the civil war bothered me. If he knew it was going to happen, why did he let it go? Is Mike starting to believe the same ideals of the nobility, that people can needlessly die so long as the “right” people retain hold of their power. Gone is the idealistic American who believed that nobody should die stupidly in war. Now we have a statesmen who is not above letting people die so that things work out the way he thinks they should be.
Okay, so I’m letting a bit of the ideologue get to me. I apologize. It’s just that a character usually doesn’t change so much as a series goes onward, unless the person is a teen becoming an adult. The fact that Mike would change his morals to fit his needs is a bit disturbing, and reminds me much of Stalin’s “One death is tragic, one million deaths is a statistic” sort of approach to governing.
The story was okay, though the author does have some memorable one-liners in it that made me laugh out loud and caused more than one person to look at me funny. The writing itself is good, as you would expect from Eric Flint, and the series continues to chug along. However, I have a feeling that this train is slowly running out of steam. Eventually, to keep interest in the series strong, I think Flint’s going to have to kill off a major uptime (from the 20th century) character, which basically means either Jeff Higgins or Mike Stearns. That’ll allow for more character development for their respective spouses and keep the series fresh.
Because everyone knows that in real life (as real as the author tries to make the 163x series seem), everyone runs out of luck eventually.
I’d give this a decent rating, a buy if you’re like me and have collected the entire series to date. I’d buy the ebook if not, however, or check out it from the library. Too many things that bugged me in this prevents me from saying this is a must-buy book.
–Reviewed by Jason