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Europe in Winter (The Fractured Europe Sequence Book 3) Kindle Edition
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- In Russia, a group of terrorists infiltrates the Line—the sovereign nation-state that exists as a transcontinental rail line—and when they detonate their bomb, the explosion from train’s fusion engines levels a small mountain.
- In Siberia, an assassin kills an enigmatic foreign dignitary under the noses of his bodyguards, before disappearing off the grid.
- A server bank draws immense computing power in Dresden—now its own independent city-state, one of many such polities that have sprung into existence as Europe fractures and balkanizes. This is more computing power than any government needs, yet here it is, running a series of simulations and predictions… to what end?
- Across the continent, Europeans exchange hostages with members of the Community—a high-tech pocket-dimension spanning as much space as Europe, created in the image of the English countryside circa 1930—even as it enters into Union, a joining of the two distrustful powers.
Who is behind these seemingly unrelated but far-reaching events, and to what end? That is the problem facing Rudi, a former cook turned spy when he joined the mysterious Les Coureurs des Bois. Rudi sets out to uncover the truth, aided by a motley crew of intelligence agents, sleeper cells, mafiosi, and unlucky civilians who know just a bit too much. The search will uncover truths Rudi would never have expected, striking as close to home as his father’s lodge in Estonia and as far away as another dimension.
The Fractured Europe Series has built its success on blending near-future SF with Le Carre-style espionage, and Europe in Winter does not disappoint. The espionage is just as intriguing, if not moreso, than the previous volumes; if anything, Hutchinson has only improved here, offering a more complex mystery for Rudi to unravel and raising the stakes considerably. The series has always had a strong spy-espionage angle, but the first volume seemed as much (or more) a portrait of post-EU Europe, while Europe in Winter puts the espionage elements front and center. It does return to the roots of Europe in Autumn, not just from the espionage but from the way the narrative bounds across this fragmenting Europe like a fictional travelogue, an element I felt was less present in Europe at Midnight. On the flipside, Hutch has taken a step back from the surreal weirdness that pervaded Midnight, making Winter a more accessible but less complex read.
Europe in Winter exceeds the previous two volumes in the scope and vision, and in many ways I want to proclaim it the best in the series to date. (Part of me still leans towards the intricately-crafted Europe in Autumn, but it’s a close contest.) This is how you do a proper sequel: fan-favorite Rudi returns as the protagonist, other characters make cameos, the world continues to be fleshed out, and the stakes are raised to perilous new heights right before we’re left on a not-quite-a-cliffhanger finale pointing towards Europe at Dawn. The novel’s plot is a complex puzzle to suss out, and Hutchinson’s dry humor, good characterization, and wonderful setting make it into an addictive, engaging read. This series continues to be one of the most intelligent and rewarding in SF today, and I left Europe in Winter both impressed and satisfied. And, of course, I’m looking forward to what the next volume holds…
My review of Europe in Autumn argued that that book was not really a novel but the first part of a longer novel. I pointed out that that book decided to bring in a mind-blowing change of direction without wrapping up the loose threads. Normally, I think that kind of thing is dirty pool. We purchase books as books, rather than as parts of books, but I was so taken with Hutchinson's writing and ideas that I decided not to hold it against him.
Well, he's done it again.
And again I like the story enough to not hold it against him.
This may get spoilery. So, if you don't like that kind of thing, don't read beyond this line.
In the immediate predecessor story - Europe at Midnight - we follow "Rupert" as he discovers that he lives in a pocket universe and that there is a bigger universe out there in which Europe is fragmenting into smaller and smaller polities. This made sense because at the end of the first book, the main character of that book, Rudi, had unraveled the secrets of the pocket universe of the Commonwealth adjacent to that of Europe.
In Book 3, Rupert is reduced to walk-on and supporting character status, as we return to following Rudi as Rudi searches for "Courier Central", which is the legendary central authority of the shadowy organization of smugglers that operates in Europe.
The book opens with a suicide bombing of a tunnel used by the Line - the European-crossing railroad that is also a state. We observe the assassination of Mundt, the former citizen of Dresden who had figured out something about opening breaches in the multiverse. Rudi learns something about his father and a group of French mathematicians who were part of the Versailles Conference in 1919. Rudi gets braced by an agent of the European Community. Characters introduced in prior books - like Seth and Rudi - appear for a moment and walk off stage without contributing much of anything. Pieces of the Community begin to drop into Europe.
I found myself noting the appearance of minor characters who were introduced with the signals and portents that they were going to contribute to the story, who simply disappeared. It appears that this quirk was due to Hutchison introducing them into the story as a reward for their contributions to a charity. That's really nice but made for some confusion and extra work for the reader.
Ultimately, Rudi gets his answers but the reader discovers that there has been a new mysterious player in the game, that his father has had connections with the Community for fifty years, that he is basically Courier Central, that there is a brand new pocket universe under the control of the European Community, and an even more mysterious player in power politics is hinted at.
All in the last twenty pages of the book.
Then the book ends.
Again, this is not really a novel, but the ride is quite enjoyable. I like Hutchinson's characters. I enjoyed seeing Seth and Rupert walk on stage for a turn. I felt as if I was getting information on the structure of this odd reality that Hutchison has invented. I tried to work out the mystery as the plot developed.
Obviously, this story is not over.