1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies (The Ring of Fire)
by Eric Flint and Charles E. Gannon
Cover Artist: Tom Kidd
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476736785
Date: 03 June 2014 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The series has come a long ways since the ring of fire teleported a small West Virginia town into the Thirty Years War in Central Europe. The citizens of Grantville have risen to the occasion and become more. A group of mine workers and backwoods nobodies have changed the course of the world. They have to fight and sacrifice to make it a better one. Cantrell is one of the uptimers that has sacrificed. He lost part of his leg when he fought on the Baltic.
Eddie Cantrell was a nonentity before the Ring of Fire. Now he is a war hero and married to a princess, well the daughter of a king. His work in the USE Navy is important because he is one of the few people in the world that can understand the uptimer technology and its uses in warfare at an intuitive level. He just needs to gain the knowledge of the sea and the respect of his fellow navy men.
Although most of the action in prior Ring of Fire novels on the action in Europe, Gannon and Flint continue to open the action in the New World. The powers of Europe want the resources that are available around the Gulf. The entrenched powers held by Spain's governors won't be given up without a fight. But the resources, especially easily accessible oil is going to be in great demand. The French, Dutch, USE, and Danes all have their own plans. As the plans intersect some overwrite others. There are also hidden plans to provide hope to a people that have been taken advantage of a suffered trying to gain freedom, the Irish.
The largest battle takes place at sea, but there are several land actions. The technology advantage that Cantrell's mission has with a pair of uptime designed steam ships is great, but not unassailable. Planning, conditions, and numbers can overwhelm the capacity of those ships. As can a commander who chooses not to use the full capabilities of the weapons at their disposal. Far from supply bases, all the plans and schemes balance on a knife's edge.
This is a pretty standard Ring of Fire novel. Fans of the series will find a lot to enjoy here, even though it isn't advancing the main story line. It is not the best starting point for new readers as there is a lot of back story that feeds into the events detailed. It is a standalone novel and the basics can be followed by anyone, but there is a lot of nuance that the new fan will miss.
It is hard to believe the size of the universe that was created when this series started. There have been sixteen novels, a regular short fiction publication, and several collections. There have also been several authors who have gotten their first publication due to the open nature of the universe. Even with everything that has been published, there are still a lot of tales and most of a world to still explore. This is not Gannon's first novel. He has also collaborated in the Honorverse as well as writing numerous short fiction.
The exploration of these new lands is quite interesting. Readers can get a sense of how the butterflies are impacting the rest of the world. The Cantrell adventures when combined with the action in Iver Cooper's 1636: Seas of Fortune, are providing a clear view how prior events are changing the course of history in the New World. In the end, a whole new adventure is hinted at, one I look forward to reading.