Thursday, June 29, 2017

Kirov Saga: Nexus Deep

Book 31 in the Kirov Series
By John Schettler


Volume 31 is right on schedule, and Nexus Deep opens with Admiral Cunningham aboard HMS Nelson as that lumbering battleship heads out to sea from Alexandria. Big things are soon to be afoot in the Mediterranean theater, but the author then makes a most unexpected transition to the famous Admiral that battleship was named for, Nelson himself aboard HMS Victory, in the year 1805. No, there was no time travel for the old WWII battlewagon, but it is a very clever opening that foreshadows a lot that happens in this book.

Old Lord Nelson becomes important for a couple reasons. The first we get an interesting look into the Admiral’s mind through his letters to the Admiralty, and orders to various ships, (one of which becomes very important.)  The author presents his view of what is most strategically important about the British situation in the Med. Is it Gibraltar? Malta? Not at all. Keep that in mind, for it will bear on decisions made by other Admirals and General over 140 years later, as the Allies close in on Tunis and Bizerte with a final grand offensive in Tunisia that aims at ending the war in North Africa.

If they do win through in Tunisia, where will they go next? That was the question settled at the Casablanca conference, but the outcome will be quite different here when Marshall, Brooke and all the Generals and Admirals get together. While Sicily is the obvious next target, the words of Lord Nelson echo through the history, and one would do well to heed them. Here they come on the lips of Admiral Tovey, who weighs in with his opinion from the naval perspective, much to Montgomery’s chagrin. The Tee-totaling British General is all set to tee up his familiar plan for the invasion of Sicily, but the fact that Malta remains in German hands presents a problem that the conference must now work out.

The result of their decisions is played out here before this novel ends, but there is a lot more going on, and some of it has to do with a Deep Nexus Point that has yawned open at the very outset of this volume.Elena Fairchild is now ready to launch her mission into the deeps of St. Michael’s Cave beneath the Rock, and that little adventure suddenly presents her intrepid team with the prospect of paradox. Intelligence Chief Mack Morgan plays the Devil’s Advocate as they work through the mission planning, but the real devilry happens later when this inkling of paradox emerges once the mission has already been launched. This plot line has been foreshadowed many times, and indeed, Fairchild got the idea for the mission from one Professor Dorland, long ago at the Azores conference. There, the time sleuthing Physics Professor (a primary character in the author’s Meridian Series time travel novels) makes his cameo appearances in the Kirov Series disguised as Lieutenant Commander  Wellings. Remember all that foreboding discussion about Paradox, Gordian knots and Grand Finalities? That shadow is again rising in the background as Fairchild is dead set on retrieving the key lost on Nelson’s sister ship, HMS Rodney.

These events in the Med serve as bookends for this novel, and in the center, the big battles on the Eastern Front are again taking center stage. The cover tells the story well enough for as it prominently features Field Marshal Manstein beneath a Panther Tank overlaid on a faded map of the German Kursk Offensive, Operation Zitadelle. Three plans are considered, Habicht (Hawk), Panther (an expanded version of Habicht), and the historical Zitadelle. Manstein argues strongly for the former, but as always, Hitler gets the last say.

Launched a month early in June of 1943, the German attack aims at regaining the momentum lost to the Soviets during the long defensive struggle against Operation Red Star. Manstein’s “Backhand Blow” was able to halt the enemy offensive, ending with the bitter  and costly battle of Volkov Yar, but while Belgorod was recaptured, the line of the Psel river that was once anchored on Oboyan was never restored. Now Hitler wants that lost terrain back, and he chooses the operation most likely to deliver the goods, and then some. His eyes are again set on a distant political target—you guessed it—Kursk in Operation Zitadelle.

One of the most interesting elements of these novels is the detailed depiction of the decision making on either side. All the key players meet and hash out the plans which will then be presented in the action/battle sequences dead ahead. As the operations proceed, both east and west, you can just feel the palpable turning point in the war playing itself out in this novel. We saw one such event in the Season 3 novel by that same name, Turning Point, and it changed the course of the war in North Africa. This time, the Germans finally reach high tide in Russia, and the dangerous receding ebb tides of mid to late 1943 lie dead ahead. Manstein’s inner muse is heavy with the realization that something has changed. The year that began with grand offensives into the Middle East and deep into Iraq, has now transitioned into a series of desperate holding actions. Both the Soviets and Allied Western forces are now formidable opponents, and the tension in this taut mid-point of the war is apparent on every front. The outcome of the battles presented here will be decisive.

Once it seemed that Germany was invincible, and on her way to a dramatic alternate history victory in WWII. The F├╝hrer had stormed into Poland, France, and then added Spain to his new European Empire, seizing Gibraltar and then moving on into Morocco and the Canary Islands. The Soviets were driven back with heavy losses to Moscow, and watched that city burn in that exciting action from 1941 when Sergei Kirov was rescued by his intelligence master, Berzin, and fled to Leningrad. The Japanese avoided Midway, and then landed on Fiji in the Pacific, while also storming Ceylon in the Indian Ocean. Then we saw Rommel and Guderian run wild in the Middle East and Syria, taking Damascus and Baghdad. It seemed that the Axis powers were surely on the road to Victory. Hitler even had a pair of working prototypes for a ballistic missile, complete with atomic warheads! (And by God, he’s already used one on London.) But things change....

As the novel bends toward its conclusion, Part XI returns us to the Fairchild mission, and a wonderful historical vignette that deepens the mystery of the Keyholders plot line. It seems that the man responsible for the fact that the key aboard Rodney ever got there in the first place, Lord Elgin, also had a son who undertook a most curious mission. This segment Curious Marbles is most riveting, and after twisting another clue into the narrative, the author then brings us to the final segment of this offering, aptly entitled Balance of Terror. The Allies know Hitler has the bomb, and even as they lay their plans for mid-1943, the shadow of that weapon hangs heavily on them all. Churchill comes up with a plan, and uses Tovey to make a most unexpected request of our heroes aboard the mighty Kirov. While they have receded in recent volumes, they nonetheless make appearances here, stage left and stage right, because their mission to 1908 is also gathering momentum. And then… oh yes… there is Orlov. We learn just where the Chief ended up, and what he does next will make all the difference in the world... in many worlds.

Need I say more?

Kirov Saga:
Nexus Deep

John Schettler

Part I – Minerva’s Curse
Part II – Operation Chariot
Part III – Time is Money
Part IV – Zitadelle
Part V – Rumyantsev
Part VI – Confrontation
Part VII – One Small Step
Part VIII– The Road to Taranovka
Part IX – Twenty Divisions
Part X – Collapse
Part XI – Curious Marbles
Part XII – Balance of Terror

36 Chapters, about 106,000 words 

The initial upload of the Kindle file during publication did not have the table of contents hyperlinked, and this will be corrected by 6/30/17.