This pleases me, as I am tired of time travel fiction where it works out oh-so-clever so that the timeline doesn't actually change. The book is very rah-rah American, which is okay, it's just it would be nice to see the darker side of things as well. Sure, I'm not propotent of feudal authoritarianism, and I know most nobles did horrible, horrible things, but I think the author is a little too gleeful about judging people raised in a very different environment by modern standards. (In fact, sometimes the randomly exceptional characters that just happen to be in that town make me think of a PC group in an RPG, both for good and for ill...) While the introduction establishes that a time paradox isn't possible, it's not like the characters have access to that information. In a lot of ways, this book's concept is better than the actual writing. I'm going to read the next book in the series, as I'm curious what happens, so that says something, at least.
(In fact, I suspect the book may have been written in the first place because the author loves this historical figure and wanted him to have a better ending than his actual death.) Everyone falls in love in the second quarter of the book, mostly improbably, and everyone immediately has a happy marriage with no culture shock, despite differences in time period, religion, and language spoken. The author has an afterword in which he rather defensively explains that he wanted to write a "sunny" book featuring decent, working class heroes. I do not require justifications to feature well-meaning, hardworking, decent people instead of angsty antiheroes, nor do I challenge the likelihood of a young man rescuing a woman from being a forced camp follower and it coming out well. But I think that he took it too far--happy endings do not require everything to turn out well for the protagonists at every single stage with no setbacks, and not every attraction turns into a stable marriage. These people have been ripped from their time period never to return, many losing family in the process. And you can have decent characters and happy endings without demanding that they be so.
As one might expect, there's a lot of graphic violence here --the real Thirty Years War was no Sunday school picnic either-- but Flint's good characters employ violence only as an instrument of moral order, not in opposition to it.
The novel tells the story of a small US township that is automagically transported back in time and place in the middle of the Thirty Year War in Germany. As one reviewer at Amazon said, "17th century battlehardened mercenaries, haughty nobility and ignorant peasants alike renounce their entire belief system in days once introduced to ice-cream, cute cheerleaders and American politics --- that part rings so seriously untrue it completely destroyed my enjoyment of this novel." One of the most boring aspects of the novel was the fact that it focussed very much on the political discussions of the time travellers, who discuss endlessly the various facets of their production facilities etc.
So of course Eric Flint complicates this by throwing a 21st-century American town into the center of this shit and gleefully wreaks conceptual havoc. Well, Flint obviously knows his history (and I credit him for that because this time period is confusing as FUCK) and does take the book seriously, but just has so much goofy shit going on both content and prose-wise that I had to just take it as the extremely, UNGODLY nerdy experience it is. A ton of them are faceless and only recognizable by their title, and disturbingly all of the American characters are funny, kind, and awesome at what they do. I probably mentioned this before, but Flint never skimps on the history in his books. To be honest, there were a lot of points where the actual history was better than the shit going on in Grantville...people who are interested in the details of getting a modern-day town back up and running and producing in what was basically the fucking Middle Ages will be satisfied by the amount of time Flint takes up on this shit, but I'm not particularly into it. Thankfully he didn't spend that much time on it and kept everything rolling with awesome battles and scenes featuring historical figures like the aforementioned Gustavus Adolphus. I recommend my nerdy military-history-loving friends give this a try if they haven't already.
The bad: - The ridiculous elevation of the American small-town style of life, and the amazing prowess of the average American gun-toting redneck, I mean, heroic fighter for the freedom of others. - The author's tendency to go off and wax lyrically about this or that historical person for pages and pages, ranging somewhere between boring and ridiculous. But maybe that's ok if you're only shooting murderous raping Germans and Croats...
How would the 20th century Americans cope? The Americans hit the ground running with barely a moment to catch their breaths and set out making their collective and remarkably unified presence felt in a Germany caught up in the Thirty Years War. The book is full of interesting history but the characters just never felt real to me and ultimately caused me to be unable to suspend disbelief.
The author is a trained historian, I believe, and this is the kind of book I would love to write if I had that kind of knowledge of 17th century politics and society. Little details, like the fact that the Americans win most skirmishes mostly due to sheer rate of fire, that 17th century men have bad teeth, and that visual details about a modern person would "read" differently to a 17th century person are just awesome. For instance, take this scene from the middle of the book in which the citizens of Grantville have just made an alliance with the men of a nearby German town against the invading Catholic army, where Jeff, a slightly overweight nerdy D&D enthusiast who is acting as a scout and messenger, is just leaving on his motorbike: "A moment later, Jeff was roaring off. They get down to business, and follow their (American) ideals, which include things like equality for women and freedom of religion. For instance, early in the book some men from the United Mine Workers of America (the local union, AKA the UMWA) go off to investigate some smoke, before they really realize what has happened to their town, and run across some mercenaries having their way with a farmer and his wife. There's an educated "jewess" who is one of the first to be rescued (and remains an awesome member of the American's elected assembly), an unwilling camp follower who was rescued by the Americans and becomes almost a spy/agent for them as an ardent supporter of 21st century women's rights, a young Scottish mercenary officer who visits a 21st century dentist before he starts wooing one of the Grantville cheerleaders because he feels self-conscious about his teeth, and, of course, there is King Gustavus Adolfus II, the Swedish King and head of the "good" guys' army, who is blustery and at first disbelieving but awesome. Amongst the 21st century characters are that cheerleader mentioned above who becomes a crack sharpshooter (not as unlikely as it seems), and the school's history teacher, a former Civil Rights activist who was only working in this tiny West Virginian town because she was too radical to be hired in the big city where she used to live (although the townspeople didn't really learn this until they were writing up their new constitution.) Maybe I just like badass historians. -political shenanigans in which racist bigots don't win -tactics that combine historical techniques with modern weaponry -characters who have personalities independent of their love interests -strong female characters who have personalities independent of their love interests, who sometimes have moments even more badass than the menfolk -badass scenes in which the 17th century people actually demonstrate that the people of the 21st century actually DO have things to learn from the past.
Things came too easy (they just happened to have an M-60 and three boxes of ammo)and the good guys always won, but he hewed to his formula. (Wonder how his Americans in Europe in 1632 would have reacted to the murderous attack on their school children had Flint written this after 9-11-2001?) The most fun section was the appearance and exploits of Captain Gars.
This is a great premise for a book and it definitely starts with a bang. In terms of relationships and any drama there, the women are all beautiful and clever and all end up with their soulmates, knocked up by the end.