Book Reviews

Book Review – Stalin’s Hammer: Paris by John Birmingham

This final novella in the series of three following events in the original Axis of Time trilogy wraps things up nicely while at the same time leaving open possibilities for more stories in this timeline. The series began six books ago with the idea that a multinational force targeting terrorists in the Pacific theater fell through a wormhole created during an experiment and ended up in the middle of the Battle of Midway, literally, in 1942.

One of those who fell through time was Prince Harry, as part of that multinational force. He’s now out of the British line of succession but is working with MI6 as someone who can hide in plain sight. With his girlfriend, former embedded reporter Julia Duffy, he traveled to Cairo to make contact with a former German rocket scientist that the West wants to keep out of Soviet hands. However, that operation went sideways, and at the opening of this book, we find him and Julia captives of the Soviets, along with the scientist.

There is more intrigue here as agents in Great Britain and the United States are catching on to what Stalin is attempting to do. His greatest realization from the future was the history that hadn’t happened yet, and he’s taking steps to try to correct the mistakes the Soviets made that led to their downfall. One, in particular, is an orbital space weapon that will allow them to dominate. When the United States suddenly loses a majority of its satellites, they realize Stalin is making his move and must scramble to try to stop him in time.

This trilogy has been a great bridge between the end of World War II and what will likely be World War III. Birmingham does a great job setting up the political intrigue as well as the conflicts between the nations. There’s more going on behind the scenes with the “uptimers” (those who came back from the future) acting together despite national boundaries. Admiral Kolhammer is now Vice President of the United States but has people in strategic places around the globe who are loyal to him and who can be relied on to respond at the right moment. This is exactly what is about to happen in Paris.

Behind the scenes, a mercenary who survived the massacre during which Harry and Julia were kidnapped is making a play to rescue them. It’s a good aside as Harry isn’t as involved with the story here as he was in the last two novellas, but rescuing him is necessary to keep what he knows out of Soviet hands as well as keep him from being a hostage. The characters have followed through really well from the initial series, which is why I can’t recommend starting here. Readers really need to go back to the beginning and start the series with Weapons of Choice. It’s hard to really grasp who everyone is without that as Birmingham doesn’t regurgitate the whole backstory of each character when they appear. The political intrigue, however, is really great for this tense time of confrontation.

It’s said at the end of this book that Birmingham is continuing the story into World War III. This was published in 2016, and there are no signs that those books are coming, however. The problem is that waiting so long allows readers to forget who is who, which was a problem I faced when I started these three novellas. I went back and re-read Weapons of Choice just to get a brief synopsis of who was who before I tackled these three books. Birmingham has kept the characters consistent and interesting, but it’s also hard to remember who everyone is after too long between books (and especially if you are an avid reader of alternate history.)

That said, though, Stalin’s Hammer: Paris is a great continuation of the series and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The technology may go over my head at times, but there’s enough there that I can understand why the weapons are intimidating and warranted. It’s a Tom Clancy-style thriller with some science fiction thrown in.

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