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Fun, But a Bit Confusing at Times
on October 11, 2011
I first noticed the original three books in Taylor Anderson's "Destroyermen" series at the local bookstore, and was greatly intrigued by the cover art. I liked the basic premise: in 1942, an aging WWI-era naval destroyer named the USS Walker gets pulled into an alternate universe by a freakish electrical storm somewhere near modern-day Indonesia. Suddenly, a ship-full of memorable characters, totally bewildered, encounter somewhat familiar seas and islands populated by bizarre, often malevolent, sometimes very intelligent creatures.
To survive, the protagonists have to become very resourceful -- quickly -- and make friends with the native Lemurians (nicknamed the 'Cats), who are mammalian but definitely not human. The major threat to their collective existence consists of Japanese also caught in the storm, who have allied themselves with insane velociraptor-type creatures called the Grik.
OK, I was hooked. Fast forward to Book Six of the series, "Firestorm", and I'm still hooked. It's becoming an expensive habit, buying these things straightaway in hardcover because I can't bear the thought of waiting another year for the paperback edition.
By now, the world of the Destroyermen has become very complex indeed. "Firestorm" came out much sooner than I'd expected, or I would have re-read the previous five volumes to prepare myself. The cast of characters has become so large, I'm having trouble keeping track of them all. Still, I plunged into the story with gusto. By the time I got halfway through the book, it was all coming back to me.
You definitely will want to read those earlier volumes before you start in on this one.
There are several different interwoven storylines picking up from Book Five, "Rising Tides". One arc, on the western front, follows the on-going war with the Grik and their remaining Japanese allies -- those who haven't been eaten yet. This is centered on the island of Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka in our universe). The Grik are starting to show disturbing signs of learning how to think for themselves; rather than just try to overwhelm their "prey" in their ravening thousands, they're beginning to actually employ strategy, even deviousness. They've got a few nasty tricks waiting in reserve. Will our friends get caught in a trap? Or will they catch wise to the situation?
On the eastern front is the developing conflict between the Empire of New Britain and the Holy Dominion, a tyranny dominated by some twisted amalgam of Roman Catholicism and the old Aztec religion, complete with human sacrifice and Blood Priests. A number of Americans and Lemurians, allied with Governor-Emperor Gerald McDonald, are trying to free the island of New Ireland from the clutches of the Dominion. The USS Walker, meanwhile, is heading toward North America to head off a likely invasion of some New British colonies. The Doms, as the enemy is known, also have some nasty surprises waiting.
A third story arc involves the appearance of yet more Japanese ships through the rift between universes. It is now late 1943, and the Pacific War is not going so well for Japan. They have some American prisoners who manage to escape, including a cousin of Lieutenant Commander Matt Ready. It is urgent that the allies find this new bunch of Japanese before they can complicate matters even further.
And there are a couple of minor story arcs, which are interesting and will presumably take on greater importance in later installments of the series.
All of our favorite characters are back, including Dennis Silva, Matt Ready, Sandra Tucker, Princess Rebecca McDonald, "Larry the Lizard" and any number of different Lemurians. Unfortunately, as another reviewer also notes, we don't get to spend a lot of time with these people, as different chapters focus on different plotlines and jump back and forth.
In fact, the book could benefit from a "dramatis personae" listing the principal lands, races and characters. Kind of like the "Dragondex" in Anne McCaffrey's early Pern novels. Call it the "Destroyerdex".
Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that the book ends on a satisfying note for some of our old friends, while others are left in a very sticky predicament. Hopefully, Book Seven isn't too far away. This series has come a long way from that original trilogy, and there's no end in sight.
Increasingly, we're seeing a parallel WWII unfolding in this alternate universe. I can't help but wonder what else might cross over from our world as 1945 comes around.