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ABOUT Lions at Dawn

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If you’re a fan of WWII and like fiction set in that world, then the Kirov Series by John Schettler is perhaps the most comprehensive fictional account of the war ever written. It didn’t begin that way. The author set out to spin an exciting naval saga at the outset, but with a twist. He contrived a nuclear accident at sea to move a Kirov class Russian battlecruiser from the year 2121 to 1941 in the Norwegian Sea, and the rest, shall we say, is history.

That breakthrough novel, aptly entitled Kirov, has sense spawned a massive alternate history saga that is now entering volume 28 with the latest offering, Lions at Dawn. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s an “alternate” history either. After eight exciting volumes in “Season 1” of the series, Book 9 moved the ship to June of 1940. At that point, beginning with Altered States, the author began a general retelling of the entire war as influenced by the interventions of Kirov and all his main characters from that ship. Since then, we’ve been treated to a finely detailed depiction of virtually every major battle of the war, but one where all of the many great “what if’s” are given a liberal brush.

After the British attack the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, the defeated French are so outraged that they join the Axis. Germany launches Operation Felix with Spain’s cooperation, and they take Gibraltar. Rommel goes to North Africa on schedule, but to support his line of communications, the Germans launch Operation Hercules to take Malta in 1941. Starting to sound interesting? Since then, this massive alternate history has taken another 20 volumes, all full length novels of well over 300 pages, to recount the war from June of 1940 through January of 1943. That’s where we are now, and by “we” I mean a faithful cadre of hard core series fans that have stayed with this tale from Book 1. The author never disappoints, delivering a new series novel every 60 days in an amazing feat of writing agility, and the quality of the prose, and the innate story telling ability of this writer,  is first rate.

Through all this alternate history, the battlecruiser Kirov, and other “intruders” from the modern era, fight on one side or another to sway the course of events.  The Germans moved into French North Africa, threw their parachute divisions at the Canary Islands, and the Allies eventually countered with a much revised Operation Torch. Unable to attack either Oran or Algiers after losing Gibraltar, they settle for Casablanca and then add Lisbon to the objective list, invading Portugal to drive through Spain and attack Gibraltar from the north, while the Americans push up from Casablanca.

It’s an alternate history so detailed in its presentation, that you will learn more about the real history of the war than many full length non-fiction volumes could relate. At times, in the first season, there were scenes starkly contrasting the fire control systems on the battleship Yamato’s massive 18-inch guns with the lightning fast computers aboard Kirov sending missiles at that ship. You get the same loving detail here in all the machinations and motives behind the battles. Throughout the tale, the author brings all the major historical figures to life, admirals and generals, soldiers and statesmen, and some become deeply embroiled in the mystery surrounding the ship’s appearance, particularly Admiral John Tovey, and the British code breaking wizard, Alan Turing.

The action spans the entirety of the war—the east front, operations Barbarossa and Typhoon, Moscow, Stalingrad—now called Volgograd, because one of the great twists in the alternate history is that Josef Stalin was assassinated by Sergei Kirov in 1908. I won’t even attempt to recount that long and exciting subplot of the saga, which centers on an insignificant town in Siberia called Ilanskiy, and it’s just loaded with mystery and suspense. So Sergei Kirov rules Soviet Russia in this alternate history, or what’s left of the old Soviet Union, which was broken into three great states, one of which is allied with the Germans!

Beyond that detailed treatment of the war in the east, we get the entire war in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor on, where Kirov is now becoming a real nightmare for Admiral Yamamoto. The Captain of the Russian battlecruiser, Vladimir Karpov, is on a personal vendetta to reclaim territories taken by Imperial Japan much earlier in Season 1 of the Series, and that pits Kirov against the IJN. Yet to balance that equation, the author has introduced another time travel twist that sends new champions back from 2021 to fight for Japan. The result is modern naval fireworks in the Pacific, right in the midst of the other major operations as the Americans and Japanese struggle for dominance.

One of the most engaging plot lines in the war story is that of the intense back and forth fighting in North Africa. We’ve been treated to a detailed and exciting presentation of the entire war in North Africa as well, every major battle, and then some, following the exploits of Erwin Rommel, who has become one of the principle historical characters of the series. True to the premis of the series as a whole, the author introduced a much unexpected time travel twist in Book 4 of Season 2 (series volume 12), and it had a dramatic effect on the North African Campaign. It introduced some thrilling spins that I won’t say anything about so as not to spoil the fun of those readers yet to come.

That takes me to this latest offering and it begins with another twist, just like the one introduced in Three Kings, right at the mid-point of Season 2. For a moment it looked like the author was setting up an echo of the action we saw at the end of season 1, where Volsky and Fedorov team up with Gromyko on Kazan to hunt down Kirov. Yet Karpov managed to brilliantly convince Fedorov of the futility of that course, and here, events will immediately move the action in a whole new direction. Read and see!

The history action in Book 28, Lions at Dawn, returns us to the desert country in both Algeria and Libya. In the west, the Allied armies under Montgomery and Patton are now driving for the Tunisian border, and about right on schedule, as all the action in this novel takes place in January of 1943. Monty is on the Algerian coast, and Patton well south, thinking to drive into central and southern Tunisia. Far to the east, General Richard O’Connor, escaping capture by the Germans in this alternate history, is bravely leading the British 8th Army.

Lions at Dawn, like so many of the other book titles in the series, also has a double meaning. There’s a play on the name of the new German tanks introduced into the history, the equal of their historical Tigers in every respect, called the ‘Big Cats’ by the series Generals. We’ve already seen them fighting on the east front alongside the first of the new Tigers, and now the new German “Lions” are taking center stage in North Africa too. Yet there is another shade of meaning in the title, and it has to do with a new story twist that the author introduces right at the outset of this novel. One look at the book cover has you scratching your head, for the ship that is normally looming over the seas in not the battlecruiser Kirov. Without revealing that twist, it will lead to some intense combat scenes in this book, a rollicking engagement spanning a full six chapters.

This volume also furthers the mystery of the Keyholders saga a bit, as Elena Fairchild takes her Argonauts deep into St Michael’s Cave beneath Gibraltar and encounters something unexpected there. Then there are also smaller scenes, tucked away in those three chapter segments that form the structure of all these books. One involves a British frogman raid on Bizerte, aptly entitled “Chariots of Fire” after the name the British gave to their man mounted torpedoes. Then Hitler also takes center stage in this book, making sweeping changes at OKW and then ordering a new major operation that will take this alternate history in yet another unexpected direction.

Elsewhere in this volume, Alan Turing is back for a curtain call here as well, and we learn how he has been affected by the revisions to the history caused by Kirov’s “Second Coming” in the mind bending novel Paradox Hour that ended season 2. Then Hitler’s new Zeppelin fleet undertakes an amazing mission over the Black Sea, and Hitler begins to unveil the first of his new secret weapons. That scene is vividly paired with the dramatic and action-filled conclusion of this novel, a six chapter donnybrook at sea that I can’t reveal. All I can say is that in the Zeppelin scene, you see the root of all the weapons that figure so prominently in the whirlwind ending of this book.

“Alternate” or not, this is a history so credibly written that at times I cannot remember what really happened as opposed to the amazing spin the author puts on it here. Like Fedorov, he knows this history inside and out, and any change he makes is well founded, and absolutely convincing in its depiction. Lions at Dawn is loaded with those riveting discussions between senior officers, admirals and generals, that the author uses so skillfully to convey details of the battles being fought. He lets us inside each key player’s head, and we learn the internal muse of men like Rommel, or George Patton, to name but a few, and  that leads us to an understanding of the decisions that shape the tactics and strategy of the battles being covered.

Some find alternate histories too contrived or perhaps too frivolous to be taken seriously, but that cannot be said for this one. The detail involved, the depth of the research, the sheer knowledge conveyed in the tale, does ample homage to the real history of WWII. The actual chronology of the war is very true to the real history, though we’ve had many “what if” campaigns, and this volume introduces yet another with Hitler’s Operation Phoenix. The author creates an account of the war that is  so real and convincing that any sense of disbelief goes right out the window early on. He leaves no stone unturned, and the characters that series readers have all come to know and love continue to evolve and play major roles in all this history, some of them now harboring memories from several alternate lives they have lived out through the tale.

28 novels deep, series readers still can’t get enough of this saga, and they’re getting this volume just a little early for Christmas instead of new Year’s as originally planned.

Look for Lions at Dawn to be available just before Christmas Eve this month, and enjoy!
 

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AUTHOR INTERVIEW

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Kirov Saga:
Lions at Dawn

By
John Schettler

Part I – All Hallows Eve
Part II – Operation Phoenix
Part III – The Halfback
Part IV – Chariots of Fire
Part V – Humbugged
Part VI – Speed
Part VII – Unforgiving Minutes
Part VIII– Friends & Enemies
Part IX – Saint Michael’s Cave
Part X – Stalemate
Part XI – Lions at Dawn
Part XII – The Perfect Moment

 

36 Chapters - 320 pages

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