1634: The Baltic War
David Weber and Eric Flint
1634: The Baltic War is the direct sequel to Eric Flint and David Weber's novel 1633, which should make it the third novel in Flint's 1632 Universe except between the publication of 1633 and 1634: The Baltic War, Flint published three additional novels as well as an anthology set in this universe. This could complicate things, and though we are certainly never wrong to read in publication order, Eric Flint has a very handy "recommended reading order" on his website which he helpfully updated this year. That's the reading order which I am following.
As a brief re-introduction to the series, the 1632 novels posit an alternate history where a small West Virginia mining town from the year 2000 is sent back and
sideways in time to the year 1631 and moved geographically to a region
in central Germany in the midst of the Thirty Years War. With no way home, this community of hard working, blue collar twentieth century Americans intends to survive, adapt, and perhaps kickstart the American Revolution just a little bit earlier than in our universe.
Despite being fairly early in both the internal chronology as well as in the overall publication order, it is easy to see why so many offshoot novels have been published outside of the "main line" of the series. 1634: The Baltic War sees story threads taking place in London, Copenhagen, central Germany, and on the ironclad ships working their way from Madgeburg into the Baltic Sea. It would be somewhat of a mistake to describe the novel as "unfocused", but as the various characters begin to move around Europe and work on behalf of the United States of Europe, the separate storylines do not necessarily come together or build together.
This works, because if you're reading 1634: The Baltic War, you've at least read 1632, 1633, the Ring of Fire anthology and possibly / probably the other novels published before this one due to the delays of Flint and Weber coordinating their schedules to get this book done. If you're reading 1634: The Baltic War, you're invested in the characters and the world and are looking to see how the political situation develops, how the ironclads will crush everything they come across, if the captives get out of the tower, and everything else surrounding the novel.
The pacing may be a bit slower than the two previous novels, but whether it is the larger moments of actually seeing the ironclads in action or the smaller moments of Thorsten Engler trying to figure out how to propose to Caroline Platzer, Weber and Flint do a heck of a job in nailing all of the beats of the story, mixing in humor, action, drama, and anything else you might want, and telling a story you don't quite want to end after 700+ pages. Good thing there are still another dozen or so novels to keep this going.
Readers of 1632 and 1633 know exactly what they are getting with 1634: The Baltic War. I'm not sure this is the novel to introduce the series to new readers as it directly picks up story threads from the previous novels, but it will satisfy readers who are still along for the ride.
One of the most interesting (to me) things that Weber and Flint accomplished in 1634: The Baltic War is that they have made John Simpson not only a sympathetic character, but a likeable one. Simpson was introduced in the first novel, 1632, as an autocratic CEO who seemed to exist to contrast the leadership of Union Leader Mike Stearns. Simpson was set up as a minor villain, an out of touch "suit" compared to the workboots on the ground miners and union shop workers and one who quickly lost the first power struggle in Grantville. However, because Simpson had not only served as a Naval officer in Vietnam, but also had great success in running a large corporation, Mike Stearns appointed Simpson to create Grantville's Navy.
It would be very easy to argue that the primary reason Simpson has become likeable is that he is coming to appreciate the leadership of Mike Stearns - and while that is true, what is also happening is that over the course of several years in universe, the reader is seeing a very competent man do absolutely stellar work in building the Navy, building the ironclads, and running the Navy. We see John Simpson's positive qualities, and yes, it is tempered by the softening relationship with Mike Stearns. But, that relationship goes both ways, and overall the two men grow to appreciate what the other does well. It's the overall growth of John Simpson that is one of the many things Weber and Flint do so well in 1634: The Baltic War.
Though many of the characters in the series have a large amount of American idealism, they become tempered by the reality of the new situation they find themselves, though this does not cause them (yet) to stop striving to quite literally change the world. I continue to be fascinated by what Eric Flint is doing with this series and I so very much want to see how he changes the history of Europe (and the world?). I am curious, though, if there is an end point plotted out for the series and if there is a plan to see what and how these changes wrought by dropping modern Americans into the 1600's will impact the next two three hundred years. What does the world look like the late 1700's with Grantville's influence? What about in 1942? It doesn't matter for my enjoyment of these novels, but I'd love to know what happens over the course of the rest of this world's history.