Monday, December 19, 2016

EUROPE IN WINTER, a rare series novel that exceeds its predecessors



EUROPE IN WINTER
DAVE HUTCHINSON
(The Fractured Europe Sequence, #3)
Solaris Books
$6.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Rudi, the former chef-turned-spy, returns on a mission to uncover the truth—in a fractured Europe utterly changed by the public unveiling of the Community.

Union has been forged and the Community is now the largest nation in Europe; trains run there from as far afield as London and Prague. It is an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. So what is the reason for a huge terrorist outrage? Why do the Community and Europe meet in secret, exchanging hostages? And who are Les Coureurs des Bois? Along with a motley crew of strays and mafiosi and sleeper agents, Rudi sets out to answer these questions—only to discover that the truth lies both closer to home and farther away than anyone could imagine.

***AT THE AUTHOR'S BEHEST, REBELLION SENT ME A TREE BOOK OF THIS TITLE FOR REVIEW***THANKS GUYS***

My Review: The rarest read in a series-heavy publishing landscape is the sequel that improves on the previous books. This books is one of those rare birds. It might just be unique, I'd have to really dig deep in the wetware to be positive, because it's better than the previous books *because of* the previous books. My reviews of EUROPE IN AUTUMN and EUROPE AT MIDNIGHT tell part of the story.The twists and turns of the lives the characters are asked to lead are definitely in the best Cold-War-spy tradition. The patches of somewhat puzzling prose that seem to indicate that a different book has dropped into the one you were reading are exactly that...and this is what finally makes the series so deeply engrossing, twisty, and unputdownable.

Now then. The entire focus of my reviews is always why. Why did I read this book, why do I think you should (or shouldn't) read this book, why do I rate it the way I do...and here I'm going to make my "why" extremely explicit: This book, this series, this concept of reality, is much more than escapist entertainment. The author has done a good deal of deep thinking about the world, how it got where it is, why it's not some other way than it is. He's taken that thinking, those long dark tea-times of the soul, and rendered them into sophisticated, witty (Putingrad! HA!) tales of great subtlety. The interconnections among the volumes are, for those with good memory mapping, sometimes physically jolting. For the run-of-the-mill reader there's no loss of forward momentum, no sense of being at sea; for the more savvy reader, there's an added frisson of pleasure and often amusement. Make no mistake, there is not one non-sequitur in the series. Sometimes you'll need a minute to see if that's an echo or a whisper. Whichever you decide it is, you're right. Much like reality, these books won't dictate your perception of them; the author has laid many a trail through this forest. His mapping skills are, well, hard to equal. We're not talking Rand McNally here, and even the USGS topologists' skills are tested.

And that is at the heart of my pleasure in reading these books. I don't often have the opportunity to engross myself in the unfolding of a narrative across multiple volumes. The last time I can remember was the outstandingly complex world of Barsetshire, begun by Anthony Trollope and continued by Angela Thirkell. It makes me very sad that, since Mrs. Thirkell's death in 1961, no English author has seen the enormous potential of exploring social change through the lens of Barsetshire. Science fiction has multiple universes, some shared by authors with fans and others not; I was most recently bitterly disappointed in James S.A. Corey's The Expanse, which didn't live up to its deeply twisty promise until it made the leap to television. With the Fractured Europe Sequence, I am not left with the painful sense of failure to launch. The ideas are immense, the execution equals their scale, the scope does not show any signs of running out of Lebensraum.

In this entry, a few details need to be remarked on. One is aging. Our loosely conceived narrative universe contains time, and some of the main characters are experiencing its indignities and outrages. Some are quite remarkably not in sync with the world's idea of time. This is enough in itself for a dissertation. Rudi's life trajectory, set off for us in Poland at Max's restaurant in Europe in Autumn, has taken a timely twist that will repay the re-reader of the whole sequence. Another is the prominence of food: don't start this read if you're hungry or there will be near-obsessive levels of snacking. I speak from experience. In fact, I need to make groceries today because of this. Lastly, I bring up the nature of relationships in this world. Nothing is, or realistically can be, permanent; friends wander off, lovers leave, family? What's that when it's at home? Nations expand, contract, vanish, alter out of recognition, and all of it is the natural evolution of the fluid system we call culture. Like all evolution it can be speeded up or altered entirely by hybridization, selective breeding, or habitat destruction. A bleak thought. A hopeful fact. Both, and neither.

Much like life.

A final note: Today, the 19th of December, is Author Hutchinson's birthday. I planned this review to appear yesterday, a week before Yule, and held off a day to celebrate the day. This review will have to do in place of buying you a pint down at the Wolf & Bird, kind sir, as my thanks for creating and continuing to create such delightful entertainment out of the cloth reality hands you.

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