In a mysterious event, the entire island of Nantucket is picked up and sent back over 3000 years into the past.
Now its inhabitants have to learn how to survive in a world where bronze is (literally) "cutting-edge technology," human sacrifice and slavery are everyday events, and the whole island starving to death is a very real possibility...
...And it doesn't help that one of their own wants to conquer the world - and destroy them, just so they won't be a threat...
"Island in the Sea of Time"
The entire modern island of Nantucket (along with a Coast Guard sailing ship) ends up being zapped back to 1250 BC (no, it's not explained how - your guess is as good as the characters). This is not good: Nantucket imports most of its food. All those nifty modern devices still work...but only until they breakdown, run out of gas, etc. And they're offshore from an entire continent of Indians that might be hostile to them...and that they're afraid to contact because it could start the plagues that killed off most of those Indians on this world three millennium early.
The book (and it's a big one) covers their struggles to survive, grow food, somehow trade for food with the tribes currently in England (okay, it's farther away than the American mainland: They're doing agriculture there and they have a better chance to avoid a plague spreading through contact with the Nantuckeers), survive splits in their ranks...
...and try to deal with one of those splits throwing up a guy who thinks being Alexander the Great would be a really cool idea.
I found it an excellent and fast (in spite of its size) read. Stirling handles his characters well (even the ones he obviously doesn't like), the story moves along quickly, and events strike me as well thought out and believable. You finish this up feeling that, if Nantucket bopped off to the past tomorrow, its residents would handle things much like this.
A few people have had problems with the Olmec subplot - namely the [SPOILER WARNING!] bit where a character is told that his introducing mumps will "wipe out" the Olmecs (mostly through sterility). This in all probability isn't so, and Stirling in all probability knows this. It appears - to me - to be one character messing with the mind of another, while knowing full well she's spewing bullshit - and as there are still Olmecs in the next two books... [END SPOILER WARNING]
This is the first book of a trilogy (I know, another
trilogy. When will it all end?), and you can bet I'm going to be in the bookstore soonest when the next two volumns come out.
"Against the Tide of Years"
The Republic of Nantucket has survived its return to the Bronze Age and its war with William Walker in England and now, several years later, is even beginning to expand.
Unfortunately, William Walker has also
survived that war and - gaining a position of power in Mycenaean Greece - is doing a bit of expanding all his own.
Now Nantucket must find new allies as it tries to stop Walker's planned conquest of the world - and defend itself against Walker's
allies as well.
And Walker? He's heading for the siege of Troy...
Whoo, boy! Stirling's got a good series going here.
The middle book of a trilogy can often suffer just from the fact that it is
the middle book - you've already set up the storyline in the first and you can't finish it till the last - but he's managed to avoid this problem.
Unlike the previous volume - which proceeded in a mostly linear fashion - this one jumps back and forth over the ten years since the Event happened as it switches between the major groups involved with the story - Nantucket, Walker's Greece, Babylon, and a small expedition of "rangers" trying to walk across the North American continent to California...
Surprisingly, Stirling pulls this off in a fashion that allows us to see just what's been going on the last ten years without confusing us or being repetitive.
"Oceans of Eternity"
Troy has fallen and Walker's barbarian shock-troops are running rampant through Asia Minor. Nantucket and its allies are fighting a long slow retreat as they try to ready their fleet to break the Tartessian blockade at the Straits of Gibraltar, which will allow them to attack Walker's home territories directly.
As winter comes, Walker continues to advance, Tartessos is going to be no easy nut to crack, and now Egypt has allied itself with Great Achaea and is moving east to attack Babylon from the rear.
The final battle approaches...
Stirling wraps up the trilogy nicely here - while leaving lots of potential for further stories later, should he want. As in the second book, we jump back and forth in time as we switch between the four main viewpoints - Walker, Nantucket's army, Alston, and the expedition to California. But the jumps are smaller here as we're only dealing with a couple of years rather than ten.
Walker's end kinda came out of left field but it fits, to my mind (though some have complained about that "comes out of left field"). What makes it so nice is that, when the first book came out, someone on SHWI stated - with a snort - that the whole series was going to end up "in a climatic sword fight between Alston and Walker" - and not only doesn't it end up in such a cliche manner, but Alston and Walker never even see each other after the first book.
Thank you Steve for avoiding that cliche![END SPOILER WARNING]
Still, I don't want you to think I had no
problems with the book. My biggest was the whole battle with the Egyptians in the books final chapters. Oh, the stuff set in Egypt with McAndrews is great, but the battle was originally done as a short story - from what I can tell - and, quite frankly, it still feels
like a short story, just sort of sitting there in between chapters of the novel. It's rushed, pretty pointless to the storyline, and even mildly contradicts the rest of the novel in spots! On the whole, Stirling could have left it out without losing anything, though - at the least - he should have rewritten it heavily so that it actually matches the rest of the book.
Anywho, buy the whole series, read it - and await eagerly that far future day went Stirling decides to write more stories in this world...