Veteran science-fiction writer Eric Flint, the author of this opening book in his Ring of Fire series, self-identifies with the political Left; but his is an old- fashioned, Jeffersonian sort of populist liberalism, which embraces democracy, human rights, religious freedom (as opposed to “freedom from religion”), personal moral responsibility, retributive justice, and widespread gun ownership. When the small town of Grantville, West Virginia is transported, through a super-advanced alien race’s meddling with the fabric of space-time, to Germany during the Thirty Years War, the residents are willing to fight for these principles, in the midst of a maelstrom of rampant evil and oppression; and the reader is soon caught up in cheering them on!
As one might expect, there’s a lot of graphic violence here –the real Thirty Years War was no Sunday school picnic either– but Flint’s characters (at least, the good guys and gals) employ violence only as an instrument of moral order, not in opposition to it. The premise here is really original, and it’s worked out in believable detail that brings it vividly to life; there’s a good balance between action and the quieter aspects of life that build our understanding of the characters and their relationships; the pacing is brisk, and the characters are well-rounded and thoroughly life-like. (Grantville’s local UMW leader, Mike Stearnes, is nominally the protagonist, but there’s really no one “main” hero or heroine; Flint follows a number of characters who play important roles.) Well-researched actual history is incorporated seamlessly into the narrative (I learned some fascinating stuff I didn’t know before, and I majored in history!).
For readers who follow this site, one of the main attractions here are three gun-toting ladies (all of them major characters) who earn the stars above for the kick-butt quotient. High school cheerleader Julie Sims becomes the ace sharpshooter for Grantville’s thrown-together army. (She was seriously training to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in shooting events before the time-travel incident –and my guess is that she’d have not only qualified, but brought home the gold medal.) Sexually-abused camp follower Gretchen Richter, rescued by the Americans, becomes a force to be reckoned with when she learns to use a pistol. And while a young Jewish lady named Rebecca actually isn’t a very good shot, she doesn’t need to be when she’s packing a sawed-off shotgun. If you like your fictional heroines strong, tough, gutsy, and not a bit bothered by using lethal force, you’ll appreciate these gals. (The only ones who don’t are the bad guys –and their opinion doesn’t matter much once they’re pushing up daisies!)
Note: There are a few instances of unmarried sex here, but nothing explicit; the only sex scene that’s dealt with at length takes place on a couple’s wedding night and isn’t treated in a salacious way. There is quite a bit of bad language, which often includes profanity (Flint confuses this several times with “blasphemy;” but there actually isn’t any of the latter) or the f-word.
Author: Eric Flint
Publisher: Baen Books, available through Amazon in all formats.
A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.