ABOUT: Kirov X - Altered States - Volume II: Darkest Hour
of the long running Kirov Saga were pleased to see the series take yet another evolution this holiday season with the release of the book they voted into being as
their #1 and #2 choices in the reader poll. During the attempt to get the ship out of the maelstrom of trouble Captain Karpov stirred up in 1908, the story’s magic wand,
Control Rod 25, followed its Old Faithful ways and deposited Kirov and Kazan in the 1940s as Armageddon concluded.
It was there that the author thought to leave us with the haunting quote from Byron that opened the first book of the story, and one he has
resounded at times throughout this long, complex tale: “On the sea, the boldest steer but where their ports invite—But there are wanderers
o'er Eternity, whose bark drives on and on, and anchor'd ne'er shall be.” But the readers would not let the ship and crew slip silently away
again. They wanted to come along, and I was one of the first on deck when the opening volume of the Altered States segment of the saga was released on Thanksgiving weekend.
Now the story has plunged us into the heartless waters of the war at sea in the West, with new
and old characters on the vast stage of conflict. Yet the world, and the history we are now sailing in
, is strangely different. In places it is an exact reflection of the history we know, in others notably
different. Russia is fragmented into three warring states, the Germans have numerous new ships
built under their Plan Z program, Admiral Tovey sets his flag aboard a G3 class battlecruiser that
was never built in our world, and zeppelins rove the wilds of the Siberian wasteland, armed dreadnought airships that bring a naval spin to that segment of the tale.
And so on we go with this story that echoes so true to the first books in the series, yet remains so remarkably engaging. Kirov’s resident historian, Anton Fedorov, immediately sets out to try and
decipher this new world, beset with a rising sense of guilt that the shattered time line is all his fault.
Deputy Director Kamenski, one of the more mysterious characters in the series, and who often
seems to voice the author's own omniscient understanding of what is happening, describes this strange new evolution of the saga perfectly in a conversation with Fedorov:
“Nothing is certain, Fedorov. Things happen, and all this history we now find ourselves reading
about in those books and newspapers is the result of millions of tiny choices and actions taken by
people all over the world. Yes, we single out a few and claim they are the ones that matter, but I
have not found that to be the case. We want certainty. We make big plans and hope things will all
turn out well, but life seldom cooperates. Just when you think you have it all tied off and ready to
slip into a drawer, the story continues. It resists resolution. It evolves to something new.”
“But I must be responsible for the things I caused,” said Fedorov.
“Did you cause them? I wonder. This is where you make your mistake in thinking about all of
this. The dots seem to be connected. You want to move from point A to point B and feel that one
thing caused another, but it does not work like that. It’s human nature, I suppose. We want
everything tidy, with a nice beginning, middle and end. Believe me, I was in the same distress you
were in when I first found my history books were telling me lies. Things change, Mister Fedorov.
Things begin from unseen causes. They spin off in unexpected directions. They end up places no
one ever thinks they could go. Look at this ship and crew for the truth of that. You see, there are no
happy endings in stories like this. Things just continue. They go on and on, just like this little
adventure you have all found yourselves in these many months. This isn’t just your story, Mister
Fedorov. It’s everyone's story, yours, mine, the whole world's. Yes, you have your part to play, but
there are other actors on the stage, and they speak for themselves.”
And we are the lucky readers with a ticket to the show! The opening volume in this latest evolution of the tale concluded with a three chapter segment called The Witching Hour and left us
hanging right in the middle of the engagement between the Royal Navy and Kriegsmarine in the Denmark Strait. In this next volume, Darkest Hour, begins right where that battle left us, with
Admiral Tovey on the bridge of HMS Invincible for a six chapter continuation of the duel at sea.
The book is structured much like a good baseball lineup. Part I, entitled Ragnarok gets a good
runner on base as it moves between Tovey’s point of view on Invincible and that of Lindemann on Bismarck while Admiral Volsky and Fedorov huddle to determine whether or how they might
intervene here. Part II: Fire in Heaven moves the runner into scoring position as it shows us the
result of those deliberations. Then. Like any good lineup, you need a hitter that can drive the ball in
the number three spot, and here the author takes us back to that last awful moment on the bridge of Kirov at the conclusion of Armageddon, only this time we are inside Karpov’s head. Part III: Prodigal Son delivers a accounting of Karpov’s fate, and what actually happened there on the
weather deck off the bridge where we have stood with Volsky to see the blood stains on the gunwale, wondering. The answer is here. Good dramatic power in the number four spot takes the
story to a surprising place, but I can't breathe a word of that narrative here.
The book then alternates between action segments, and character based segments where we
learn more of what is happening in these altered states and how the characters will become
embroiled in the web of alliances and conflicts that lead us on into the naval war in the West. We soon move to another six chapters of naval cat and mouse in Wunderland and The Hunter, and
then the British and Germans alike begin to plan how they will try to get their hands on the powerful
French Fleet, which becomes the log on the fire in the later chapters when Admiral Tovey hands
the ball to Somerville in Force H, along with his young protégé Wells who gets his first command at sea.
This time, however, we are not left hanging in the middle of a major battle at sea. The cliff the
author pushes us out onto here starts in a quiet moment with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park and then proceeds to blow your mind in Part XII: Anomalies. Here we get a heavy dose of the
tantalizing edge of mystery that has been at the heart of this series, and one of the many themes
that has made it such a compelling read. Be careful where you try to shine the light of your
understanding in this story! There are dark corners here, and things hidden away in this tale that
are truly confounding. If you have been one of the few, the proud and the brave who have read it all
from Book I, then you will delight to see how the author pulls on tiny threads he has sewn into the
tale, and continues to weave them into something new. To put it simply, you’ll love it!
is a great mix of the old and the new, with action segments alternating with intense character based face offs that are truly engaging. The authenticity of the historical
narratives make it all seem so real, not just the broad strokes of the history, but also the little
details, like Volsky missing familiar statues and monuments on his homecoming to Murmansk.
This is part of what makes the time travel spin so convincing here, because of the deliberate slow process of revelation that the author has used when the historical characters confront Kirov. Just
as Alan Turing and Admiral Tovey slowly put the clues together to come to a grudging acceptance
of the impossible, we do as well, and end up believing that time travel is a reality! After reading these books, and Schettler’s other time travel quintet in the Meridian Series, I find myself peering
into the history books I love with just a little more suspicion, wondering who might be creeping quietly through the days of yore, changing things with an unseen hand.
The Kirov Series is a tale you can truly lose yourself in, where your suspension of disbelief is
entirely dispatched before you are a third of the way through the first volume in the series. You
become a believer, as I am, and eagerly wait for more. Thankfully you never have to wait long with this prolific and talented writer. Altered States Volume II: Darkest Hour is was released January
18th, and I was pleased to learn that the author is already knee deep in the writing of book three in the series, borrowing the title from Churchill recounting of these same events: Hinge of Fate. I
have also learned that there will be more to come. Great news, because I can't get enough!