1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz (Ring of Fire)
by Kerryn Offord and Rick Boatright
Cover Artist: Tom Kidd
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Baen Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476781600
Date: 02 August 2016 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
A brilliant scientist and a laughingstock, that is the dual nature of Dr. Gribbleflotz. Until now, he had been a minor character who was important but pursued several strange paths. In some cases his flights of fancy work out, in others something spectacular still happens.
The life and times of Herr Doctor Gribbleflotz is tracked in this epic recounting of his life. The heir to a famous physician and founder of a medical school of practice, Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz is apprenticed to an alchemist. He excels at that work, but it isn't what he wants for himself. He takes his knowledge and apprentices to a physician at Padua. An untimely death and faculty intrigue conspire to prevent his ability to test for his doctorate. He leaves and has a series of adventures expanding his knowledge which eventually brings him to Jena.
While in Jena, his alchemical skills bring him to the attention of the people of Grantville. His ill fortune leads to his greatest commercial successes. None of which matter to him in his pursuit of a very special essence. This obsession makes him seem a little off, but his ability to create downtime solutions to replace uptime ingredients will lead him to his greatest opportunity but also his greatest humiliation.
There is a strange change in perspective later in the novel. The shift from third to first person was a bit confusing and threw me for a brief loop. This is an intentional switch. When the narrator of most of the story enters the action, the perspective shifts to show the narrator's knowledge of events.
The 1632 Ring of Fire universe is rapidly expanding. There are more stories which expand on little tidbits from other stories. These stories add to the depth of the universe which fans of the series enjoy. The first part of the novel does not require having read earlier works in the series. Because the action does not center on Grantville, new readers should be able to follow the story without having read the earlier materials. The first section is a straight historical fiction. This isn't essential reading to the main storyline, but it is an entertaining look at the medical field and university politics in the 17th Century.
This is the first full on main character treatment for Dr. Gribbleflotz in the Ring of Fire universe. The Doctor has made numerous appearances in short stories, now his past comes into the light. I have to admit, I often found him an annoying sidetrack in earlier stories. The full extent of his life made him much more sympathetic. In the future, I will be much more understanding of Herr Doctor's quirks.