do you manage to kill off all your primary characters, and yet still find a way to keep them in the story? John Schettler has done exactly that with the clever twist of events that flowed through Paradox Hour and the Season 3 premier, Doppelganger.
Using the arcane science of time travel theory he devised long ago in the five novel Meridian Series, he has also given Kirov Series fans a double dose of the one character they both love and hate at the same time, the irrepressible Vladimir Karpov.
Through a very rare and strange set of circumstances as the fateful hour struck, the moment when Kirov first arrived in the past on July 28, 1941, Karpov survives aboard both his favorite ships of war. On the one hand, he is his same old self aboard Kirov,
annoyed with Fedorov’s odd interpretation of what may have happened to them. His instinct for trouble is clearly evident, and the battle lines are soon drawn between Karpov and
Fedorov in Nemesis, as our hapless hero, now a lowly Navigator again, tries to understand what has happened to him, and convince the ship’s officers of the terrible truth he
alone can remember. On the other hand, the much darker figure from Siberia also survives aboard Tunguska, possibly because of the same strange residue of exotic material from the
Tunguska Event that is part of the airship’s internal metal skeleton. A nice plot device, certainly, but it is also going to be a real treat for series readers, for the dark nemesis
of the Siberian Karpov, who we last saw staring at his own twisted visage in the mirror within his airship stateroom, now rises to the hour, with a most dangerous objective in
Devious is not enough of a word to lay upon this man, though deep down, many series fans quietly empathize with the Captain, and even take his view on the necessity of
exercising power to achieve one’s aims. Throughout the first two seasons, we have watched him find his backbone in the first book, even though his attempt to take the ship fails. We
then saw his redemption in the Mediterranean, which lasted until he again found himself aboard Kirov, its sole master and commander, and the dreadful eruption of the Demon Volcano
send him back to meet his own demons again, first in 1945, and then through that amazing evolution that saw him slip all the way back to 1908 to take on Japan’s Admiral
Yet throughout those events culminating in the riveting conclusion to Season 1, Armageddon, both Fedorov and Volsky serve as a countervailing force against
Karpov’s ambition, eventually coming for him in the one thing he fears and hates most—a submarine. It was quite a shock to see again the same rising tension on the ship as
various officers rise to oppose the Captain, and prevent his planned destruction of the entire Japanese Navy in 1908. Who can forget that last moment when, of all characters, the stolid
figure of Viktor Samsonov slowly stands at his post, refusing Karpov’s order to fire?
Samsonov has always been drawn with a light brush, a rock-like, almost mechanical figure
at the Combat Information Center on the bridge. It was almost as if he were a part of the ship itself, and his final rebellion was Kirov’s rebellion, refusing to be flogged into battle like an old, weary warhorse that would fight no more. We once thought that was the end of the series, particularly when Karpov fired those last three pistol shots at the King Alfred,
surging in under the hand of a young Lieutenant John Tovey. In his utter futility and rage, Karpov saved the last bullet in the gun for himself, and that is all we knew of his fate for
some time. He vanished from the story, until he was suddenly fished out of the water by a Japanese fisherman in 1938 in the very appropriately titled second book in Season Two, Darkest Hour.
we watched Karpov’s amazing rise to power again in Siberia, which brought us those wonderful airship duels, and the development of his vendetta with Ivan Volkov. You simply have to
love this character on some level, watching how he jury rigged radar sets and a kind of air fuel bomb to stand in for the special warheads he was so fond of delivering on his foes, and
then using it on his own fleet airship, Big Red, all so he could take down Volkov’s flagship! Determination, ingenuity, a single minded drive for power have been at the root of this
character since we first met him, refusing to sit in his Captain’s chair aboard Kirov as long as the warmth of any other man was still on the seat. Now he struts about with a detail of security guards, shadowed always by the coldly calculating figure of his intelligence chief Tyrenkov. Realizing that he already has two means of moving in time if he so chooses, Karpov now makes a bid for a triple play, the one thing he has always desired, and series readers will easily guess what that is.
But every good villain needs a hero in opposition, and now comes Fedorov, appearing on Kirov in his hard won Captain’s coat and hat, and strangely retaining the memories of every experience he lived through, while the rest of the crew remains oblivious. Fedorov has been the real protagonist of this tale from the very start, equally ingenious, quick minded, and ever fascinated by the history the author is so lovingly playing with throughout the series. It is Fedorov’s worry over the integrity of that history that sees him launching that mission to rescue Orlov, and we all know how that changed everything in these Altered States. His schemes involving the Anatoly Alexandrov brought us to that great amphibious assault led by Troyak and his Marines. And then the foray into the desert to look for General O’Conner with the colorful historical figure of Popski as his guide, ends up delivering what was perhaps the biggest plot twist of the entire series, the coming of Brigadier Kinlan’s modern day 7th Armored Brigade.
How many of us were still pulling for Rommel in those great desert combat scenes? But face it, that brigade could dismantle the Afrika Korps in a hot minute, and nearly does, but Rommel has been saved from oblivion, and something tells me we haven’t seen the last of the Desert Fox. Let us also realize that Volsky was going to destroy the entire German high seas fleet in that last engagement, starting with Graf Zeppelin and working his way right on through the Hindenburg.
With both Kirov and Kazan on the scene, not to mention the Argos Fire, the Germans would not stand a chance if Volsky was willing to spend the last of his
missile inventory. But that was not to be either, for another ingenious plot twist centered on the Devil’s Teardrop is used to cleverly remove both Kirov and Kazan from the heat of that last battle.
Let’s face it, we want to see the mighty Hindenburg go up against the Royal Navy, and we got the first duel in that arch rivalry when Tovey and Lütjens square off in Part III of Doppelganger—Gladiators indeed! Like some of the great heavyweight matches that demand another bout, we will certainly see Hindenburg at sea again, and out for blood this time, with a chastened and much wiser Captain Adler. You know it’s coming.
But for now we have all come full circle, at the beginning of things again as they take yet another evolution in the story cycle. As Season 3 opens with Doppelganger, and now in Nemesis,
we get a refreshing return to the origins of this incredible tale, for like Fedorov, we know everything that has happened before, and can share in his anxiety and fears over what might
soon happen again. So we strongly identify with Fedorov, perhaps the central character in the entire series, as he slowly comes into inevitable conflict with his great nemesis in Karpov.
Instead of becoming a mere repetition of the opening scenes of discovery in the novel, Fedorov’s struggle to convince Admiral Volsky of what has happened is now our struggle, for we
know it all, and have perhaps grieved, as Fedorov has, over the fate of the mighty ship and crew when it faced its greatest foe yet, itself. In Nemesis, this all plays out in a
series of marvelously written scenes aboard the newly arrived Kirov, and all these much loved characters interact and conflict with one another again as they tussle with the
mystery of what has happened.
The novel opens with an engaging meeting in Moscow between Karpov and Sergie Kirov, the Siberian, freshly arrived in his amazing airship, Tunguska.
There Karpov negotiates for the one thing he has desired from the very first, absolute control over the ship he once captained, and this sets the central action of much of the novel. Then
we return to the ship, and there we stay for the next 21 consecutive chapters, watching the action promised by that meeting in Moscow unfold. To say any more about it would be to spoil
the fun, but it was a refreshing return to the roots of this story, to the characters it is built around, while also setting up a series of conflicts that will become part of the central
action of Season 3 of this much loved tale.
The title, Nemesis, is dropped several times in the narration here, and you will soon see how the author is slowly setting up
sets of opposing forces, each the foil and nemesis of the other, and promising us those pairings in the arena of his fertile imagination. But let us not forget there’s a war on
here, for no volume of the Kirov Series fails to deliver some rendering of that history, slowly playing out as we continue forward into late 1941.
Operation Barbarossa has cut a swath through Russia, though this history has largely been presented through high level planning meetings between Hitler and his confederates, and Kirov and his able intelligence chief Berzin in the Red Archives. Last episode, we saw Rommel called on the carpet for his failing in North Africa, though he found surprising forgiveness at that meeting when it morphed into a discussion on new tanks being proposed to try and redress the armor question. We get more of these fascinating discussions, wherein the author relates both the history of this period, and how it has changed in these altered states. But in Nemesis we move from the broad strategic strokes, down to the operational level, and then finally to the tactical living rendition of the fighting on the ground in Russia.
With the war playing out on a stage so vast that it would be impossible to cover it all in detail, the author makes his case here by laying some of the key questions and decisions on the table in those high level conferences, and then taking us to the scene where those decisions play out. In this case, the key decision for the Germans is whether or not to try and end the war by attacking Moscow. OKW Chief Halder presents his arguments as to why this should be ordered, while Hitler’s newest favorite General, Eric von Manstein, argues the key emphasis of the campaign must remain in the south, in the effort to break through and effect a linkup with the forces of Ivan Volkov. Hitler must decide, and his choice is right in character.
And so after this engaging, character centered ride through the first 24 chapters, the author then takes us to the Eastern Front, slowly fine tuning the focus, until we are standing with the tankers on each side in a key duel that becomes a decisive engagement in Operation Typhoon.
And oh yes, let us not forget the Big Cats! The rationale for the early and more rapid development of better tanks is well laid out here, but now those Big Cats finally begin to arrive on
the scene, and the author is clearly setting up one nemesis against another in this novel, promising us much more excitement as this season unfolds.
While Nemesis does it job like any number two hitter in a good baseball lineup, advancing the runner on first that Doppelganger gave us in the season premier, it still does so with a flair of action that is both familiar and new, a solid single to center field, both on the character level, and also on the field of battle. It therefore succeeds on many levels here, so true to the heart and soul of the series itself, and yet so amazingly fresh, even as we enter book 18 with this installment.
This season we will see all of the story lines rooted in the Devil’s Garden here play out, as this book slowly concludes the dramatic and decisive actions of 1941. It has been a fascinating retelling of the war since June of 1940 where Kirov appeared in the premier of Season 2, Altered
States. And the next volume steps up to the plate like a good number three hitter, and it will be very appropriately named—Winter Storm.
The war rages on in Winter Storm, and you can bet that all your favorite characters will be in the thick of the action, and that things will start with a bang as significant and decisive as Japan’s sudden entry into the war. Brothers in arms, even after 18 novels, you ain’t seen nothing yet! As the snows of winter bring 1941 to a close, the desperate Battle for Moscow is on the menu, even as Japan sets its navy loose on a daring attack. In the meantime, don’t miss out on this one!
Get your copy of Nemesis soon on Amazon, on or before May 15!