Review of 1636: THE CARDINAL VIRTUES by Eric Flint and Walter H. Hunt
1632:RING OF FIRE SERIES
Baen, July 2015
Four years after the town of Grantville, West Virginia was thrown back to the 30 years war, peace has largely broken out across Europe. While Spain remains a threat, she's lost control of the former Spanish Netherlands and, therefore, has no easy way to bring her still-strong military to bear on the German front. Which means that American 'up-timers' are free to offer their mercenary services to all sides. Terrye Jo Tillman, now a radio operator, goes into service with the Duke of Savoy, and ultimately Gaston, the exiled heir-apparent to the French throne. Former PE teacher Sherrilyn Maddox agrees to train up a command force for the French army (France is now at peace with the German states and the Americans).
Although a leading power in Europe, France itself is unsettled. Its king, Louis XIII has failed to produce a son and there are rumors that his interests do not lie in the female direction. Cardinal Richelieu dominates French politics with a ruthless hand, exiling many who see themselves as better fit for the reins of power... including the King's mother, his younger brother and heir, and his older half-brothers (who are not in the royal line). Richelieu is unpopular with the people and even more unpopular with the nobility.
When, using the radio, Terrye Jo sends the message leading to the assassination of King Louis XIII, France is thrown into turmoil and the Queen, with her new-born son, is forced to flee while Sherrilyn Maddox and the army with which she serves must decide whether to follow the orders of the newly crowned King Gaston, or launch a civil war in support of the infant.
In 1636: THE CARDINAL VIRTUES, Eric Flint (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Flint) teams with Walter H. Hunt to continue the alternate history story begun in 1632... a story which has created a virtual industry of multi-authored sequels). I was a huge fan of the original book and have been a fan of the series although I've found many of the later books disappointing. CARDINAL VIRTUES reads like an edited novel rather than fan-fiction... one of the big problems with some of the other books in the series. It uses dialogue to move the story along rather than to slow it and deals with a critical turning point in alternate history (what would the world have been like if the attempts to overthrow Louis/Richelieu had been successful?).
While I enjoyed CARDINAL VIRTUES, I didn't feel that it used its up-time characters to full advantage. Although Terrye Jo sent the command that led to the attack on Richelieu and Louis, she never seemed to feel any guilt over having done so (or any sense of danger over knowing too much). When the government of the German states (United States of Europe) stepped in to rescue her, she didn't bother thinking of her fellow radio operator who also would be in extreme danger because he was on the other end of the conversation. I also thought some of the Catholic services went on a bit (especially when in Latin), that the worldwide adoption of American cliches is a bit far-fetched and silly, and that French and Spanish might quote their native authors more than they do Shakespeare. Then there was the whole Elvis-sighting thing which, to me, went on a lot.
Overall, despite some flaws, I found CARDINAL VIRTUES to be an enjoyable read, intriguing alternate history (set in the Three Musketeers world, no less) and a definite step up from the fan-fiction feel of several recent efforts in the series. No, it didn't have much military action and it lacked a strong character focus (this last is, I think, a conscious choice by Flint to stress the social nature of his alternate history rather than concentrate on the single hero), but Queen Anne was a sympathetic character and her efforts to survive and preserve her son's future from her husband's killers made me, as a reader, care about what happens.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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