After being upstaged by Sir Roger Ames in the marvelous retelling of the Waterloo Campaign,Field of Glory, Season 5 now begins with Prime Meridian.
Like the Season 4 Premier, Doppelganger, the book’s striking cover hints strongly that this volume will take us deeper into the mysteries, and consequences, of time travel,
which has always been at the heart of the series itself. Readers know that ‘nothing is written,’ nothing ever certain, and ‘everything is permitted, ‘as the old
Ismali saying goes. In Prime Meridian, several missions into the past now present us with some startling twists, and grave consequences.
Even as the war
continues, with the Allies now poised to make their invasion of Italy, the Germans must decide how and where to defend. Kesselring argues strongly that the key ports and airfield
complexes in the south should be defended, while Rommel holds that everything should simply be pulled back to the Apennine Range and only the Po Valley should be held. At the same time,
the Allies are dickering over any number of options now open to them after the fall of Corsica. Churchill proposes a daring move into the Balkans, Montgomery prefers his historical
“Heel and Toe” operations, and with Sardinia in hand, now Allied air power can easily cover a thrust aimed directly at Rome. The plan that is finally chosen is, however, most
unexpected, a conspiracy born of collusion between Eisenhower and General Marshall.
Yet everything these men grapple with pales before the dilemma now facing
Fedorov and company. A triumvirate of our local heroes, Volsky, Fedorov, and Karpov (the Siberian), finally agree on an attempt to eliminate Ivan Volkov to prevent the rise of the
Orenburg Federation. Yet their plans are complicated by the great loose cannon in the story, one Gennadi Orlov. Separated from Fedorov’s team on their last mission to Ilanskiy,
Orlov has remained behind in 1908. Now he makes a fateful choice when he detects another modern day naval service jacket signal, and realizes who it must be.
Orlov has always been a wild card in the deck of the main series characters on the battlecruiser Kirov. His bumbling about, impulsive decisions, strange finds on the tundra of
Siberia, have always introduced some of the major plot twists of the series, and that will certainly be the case again here. First, Orlov finds he is not alone as he sets off to hunt down
Ivan Volkov. The plan hatched by Fedorov and company is now about to undergo a convulsive twist, and the implications are more threatening to the integrity of the history than anything
that has yet happened in the series.
Meanwhile, the Meridian Project cannot fail to notice what is happening from the vantage point of the Berkeley Lab facility
in 2021. With war imminent, their Golem monitors now present a startling series of variations originating from 1908 and migrating all along the continuum, to their present. As all the
series character sets slowly come to the same realizations about what is happening, the author uses the Meridian Team to explain all the time theory behind this development and make it
more graspable. The striking cover illustrates this as well, though you won’t find out what the Hindu statue means until very near the end of this one. It’s an amazing
synthesis of the author’s entire universe of writing, all blooming now in the middle of this marathon retelling of the history of WWII.
Ever since the
arrival of physicist Paul Dorland, reprising his role as Lieutenant Commander Wellings from the final book in the author’s Meridian time travel series, he and his project team of four intrepid researchers have made occasional cameo appearances in the story. We last saw them take notice of a new historical variation cause by Sir Roger Ames in Field of Glory.
In fact, they even attempted to prevent his intervention there, but he was able to slip away on the eve of Waterloo, which led to that excellent retelling of the entire campaign. The time
travel, while often brought keenly into focus, is always just a vehicle for the author to take us into some corner of the history where he has undoubtedly spent a long time grazing. Field of Glory is now as one of the most outstanding alternate history books ever penned, and as volume 1 in the Keyholder’s Saga, we get the promise of more to come in that series. In Prime Meridian, Dorland and his team appear again, getting about three full chapters near the end of this volume, largely used by the author to explain the consequences of things the other characters are doing, and to advance the mystery around the formation of that Grand Finality Elena Fairchild was warning about.
Yet in spite of the cover emphasizing the time travel aspects of the story, this book is mostly focused on the history. The first 15 chapters all continue the evolving war in the West. Then we get a clever an interesting diversion in Part VI, where the author takes us on a little journey with the Russian Baltic fleet enroute to its fated appointment in the Tsushima Straits. That little incident makes a clever back-stitch to those events, which were echoed when Karpov arrived in 1908 with Kirov,
deciding to reset the history in Russia’s favor. We all saw how that turned out. That segment sets up another intriguing loop involving the strange talisman Orlov discovered in
Siberia, the Devil’s Teardrop. Then we get that seeming diversion stitched right back into the main story line where the German raider Kaiser Wilhelm has again broken off from Raeder’s task force. As before, mischief and mayhem lie dead ahead.
All in all, Prime Meridian launches Season 5 quite well. We get new beginnings, echoes of past segments in the series, lines drawn to connect some of the many subplots, and at the end of this one, a terrifying twist that few will likely expect. Ahead lies the remaining months of 1943, and then the decisive year of 1944 in this long retelling of the war…. Assuming the time line holds together long enough for the author to write it all. Something tells me it will, as Mr. Schettler has, on more than one occasion, vowed that he would take the series all the way to the end of the war.
And we get to take that wonderful ride!
Prime Meridian coming October 1, and welcome to Season 5.