Saturday, January 7, 2017

Book Review: 1636: Mission to the Mughals

The snippets of my ongoing effort at a story, The Forbidden Valley, will continue in the near future. Today I am reviewing the new eARC of the 163x (Ring of Fire) novel by Eric Flint and Griffin Barber, 1636: Mission to the Mughals.  As many may already be aware, the series relates the tales arising from the displacement of Grantville, a small town in 2000 West Virginia, to the southern Germany in 1631.  The cultural, political, scientific, and technical changes arising from the entrance of this small town and its people and knowledge into the middle of The Thirty Years War have proven fertile ground for dozens of novels and anthologies, and an ongoing electronic magazine.  I previously reviewed two other novels in this series, 1635: The Wars for the Rhine and 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught.

This novel is a departure from many others in this series in that it takes place far from Europe, and featuring none of the previously-established major characters in any significant way.  While some major characters such as Mike Stearns and Francisco Nasi appear in the early chapters, and Mike and Rebecca Stearns appear in the epilogue, the rest of the main cast are minor or new characters, a diplomatic mission from the new United States of Europe (e.g. basically a unified Germany) to the Mughal Empire, which controlled much of what is now India and Pakistan.  The main purpose of the mission is to obtain trading rights so as to obtain opium for painkillers and saltpeter for gunpowder production.  The story focuses as much, or more, upon the members of the Mughal dynasty as it does upon the diplomatic mission.

Technology from the future plays the smallest part in this story, though knowledge from the future is a major driver for all factions.  Unlike 1635: The Wars for the Rhine, even radio is absent from this tale.  Without spoiling things much, on the science and technology side it is only really knowledge of medical practices and the presence of a few modern firearms that influence the plot, and only in a few key points.

Rather, the knowledge of future British domination of India, of future Mughal dynastic politics are what drives the behavior of the Mughal characters, in combination with their own personal and political ambitions.  The characters are largely interesting and believable.  I found their motivations understandable, even if the religious fanaticism of certain characters may be alien to my own mindset.  The story does a good job ending certain plot threads, and reaching a nice stopping point for others, while leaving clear openings for a continuation and resolution of the issues left outstanding - I'll leave it at that to avoid spoiling the plot.

The plot moves along with admirable speed, but without feeling rushed.  Despite this being an eARC, typographical errors were thankfully few.  For a new author (Griffin Barber), even teamed up with an experienced professional author like Eric Flint, it was excellent quality.  Overall, I enjoyed the novel. I would recommend it to any fan of general altered history, and perhaps even to fans of historical fiction.  If you're strictly looking for a technology-driven story, though, this isn't it - modern technology and medical knowledge do play key roles in the story, but it isn't really a major theme or topic permeating the novel.  To any fan of fiction, I urge you to give it a try - the free sample chapters should let you know if you'll like it.  So, in summary, a fun read, and I'd recommend it.

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