Book Reviews

Book Review – Stalin’s Hammer: Rome – Continuing the Axis of Time Series

This is the first in a series of three novellas that follow the characters developed in John Birmingham’s Axis of Time trilogy. In that series, he has a multinational military force battling Islamic terrorists in 2021 fall through a wormhole and end up in the middle of the Battle of Midway in 1942.

I do mean in the middle.

Literally.

As in some of the ships from 2021 are actually melded with ships from 1942.

Moreso than the people, it’s the technology from 2021 that changes the direction of the world and the war in 1942. However, there was one person among that multinational force that would cause a ripple effect. Prince Harry from Great Britain happened to be on those ships, and he was sent back in time to when his grandmother – the future Queen – was just a young girl.

Prince Harry wasn’t the focus of those books, but these three novellas follow him in his role in this universe. Laws were put in place to exclude him from royal succession, although he does have something of a role with the Royals. He’s probably also the most famous member of the “uptimers” as those who went back in history are called.

Here he has a relationship of sorts with reporter Julia Duffy, who was an embed with the forces in 2021. While he is in Rome for a trade conference, and trying to catch up a bit with his girlfriend, MI6 taps him to meet with a Soviet businessman who is looking to defect. At the same time, a Russian uptimer, Pavel Ivanov, who is independently working against Stalin is also planning to meet with the businessman.

It was not only technology that came back from the future, but also information. The information about the course of history has Stalin frantically trying to prevent the future collapse of the Soviet Union. In all of the confusion surrounding the events at Midway and the Second World War, Stalin made more of a land-grab in Europe, and the city of Rome now is divided, similar to how Berlin was in our time. However, the Italians, through the use of the Cosa Nostra and the many ancient ruins beneath the City are resisting as much as is possible. This is secondary, though, to what Stalin is planning for the world.

It had been a few years since I read Final Impact, the last book in the original trilogy. I’d forgotten a lot of the characters but Birmingham refreshed most of them for me. I couldn’t remember all of the details, but it was enough to be able to appreciate the story. I think anyone who hasn’t read the original trilogy would be totally lost.

Stalin’s Hammer: Rome is a good follow-up to that trilogy. It’s building on it by using a celebrity of sorts as the center of the story. This is a thriller and it’s written at a great pace, keeping the action and intrigue going throughout the story. There is a lot of detail in the weaponry, which mostly went over my head. For people who like Tom Clancy-style thrillers, this will appeal to them.

Birmingham does a great job describing the technological changes in society as well. Melding the 21st-century technology with what they were capable of producing in the 1950s is handled pretty well. Things are a bit clunkier than they should be. There’s the start of an internet, which doesn’t always work. There’s the start of a cell phone network, which doesn’t always work. Most of the things that do work were harvested from the uptimer’s technology.

This was a good bit of alternate history mixed with a thriller. It was a quick read and I enjoyed it, as I have enjoyed most of Birmingham’s books. He’s created an alternate world that is believable by blending two time periods that are not so far apart except in technology. I’ll be finishing the other two books soon.

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