1636: Mission to the Mughals (Ring of Fire)
by Eric Flint and Griffin Barber
Cover Artist: Tom Kidd
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476782140
Date: 04 April 2017 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Modern technology is dependent upon a vast number of resources. Even downtime, resources are key to victories. In need of a source of opium and saltpeter, a group of volunteers is corralled into heading to India. Their mission is a long shot, but sometimes you need to shoot for the moon.
A combination of uptimers and downtimers make up the mission. John Ennis is the head of the mission. Rodney and Priscilla Totman have medical knowledge which is expected to be of use on a long journey. Gervais Vieuxpont and his daughter Monique have done many jobs, most of which were less than legal, their ability to negotiate is needed to open up a trade route.
In India, the Mughal's are ruled by Shah Jahan. The information which comes from Grantville makes the Shah think about the future even as he builds a memorial to his dead wife. He has three sons who could rule after him, in the original timeline, the one who followed him led to disaster and hundreds of years of animosity with the West. He must consider the future of India in all his choices.
In Muslim India, harem politics are cutthroat. The daughter of Jahan, Jahanara, is taking on more responsibility. With her mother dead, and some of the governors taking too much graft, Jahanara makes moves to improve the finances of the Harem.
When the mission arrives, the world is changing from what was expected. The mission doesn't really have a great negotiator, but they will muddle through with the help of old friends and new. But the greatest threat is the rise of an extremist cleric who wants to purify Islam.
This is the first book in an offshoot series set in the Ring of Fire universe. Readers should be familiar with at least the first couple of mainline adventures, but as the vast majority of the characters are new, the large number of previous volumes shouldn't be too much of a barrier to entry. Most of the action takes place in Northwest India. This is the first full-length novel exploring this region of the world.
The story explores the cultural differences between the east and west as they were in the 1630s. India at this time has not been conquered by the British Empire. The events of this time had a large influence on setting the stage for that conquest. Going forward, I expect the exploration of the attempts to prevent the development of extremist Islam. This may be an opportunity to explore the idea of historical inevitabilities or the ability to change the course of events.
The crisis facing the Mughal dynasty opens the door for significant advances. Going forward the Sultan will likely be open to more changes and pushing for technological advances which might not be acceptable were the situation less dire. The characters have depth and develop through the novel. I find I am enjoying the stories which go far beyond the confines of the USE. The adventures which started when a little town from West Virginia goes into the past, continue to get better. I look forward to the continuing adventures in India.