Review: Gunpowder Empire

Gunpowder Empire
Gunpowder Empire by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have never read any of Turtledove’s work, since they often center on the Civil War or WWII, not my favorite topics. But this sort of YA series intrigued me – it is about the multiverse. A way to cross over to alternate timelines was discovered, and Crosstime Traffic established to train people to go to various timelines, and trade and barter to bring things back. Some timelines have no people yet, even though it is the same “time.” Others are ones where Hitler won WWII, or Germany won WWI, or the South the Civil War, or China rose to prominence, etc. In this book (the other books in the series seem to focus on other families and timelines), is set in a timeline where the Roman Empire never fell, and is still strong. They have developed gunpowder, but not much else. The world contains only a few great empires, like Persia, China, and Rome. And while they have skirmishes along the border for land, the empires themselves, in the middle of these vast kingdoms, are basically safe from invasion, since it would take a miracle to plow through the whole of the Roman empire and still have enough forces left to take on Rome. Turtledove gives some great arguments and reasons for the strength of these empires, and why they haven’t progressed as much as some. Rome is stuck with bureaucracy and “paperwork.” There are rules and laws and tariffs for just about everything. Jeremy and his sister Amanda, both teenagers, spend their summers with their parents in Agrippan Rome, in a small border town, where they bring in items of small cost, but high value to the Romans. Items that are just a small step above what they can produce,and so are sought after – straight razors, combs, mirrors, and winding pocket watches. They take payment in grain which they ship home through a transportation chamber hidden in the subbasement of their house.

While there, they must play their parts, with Roman names, clothing, and use only what is available in that timeline,and speak what has become a more modern form of Latin, neoLatin. They make friends, and trade. But then their mother gets ill, and their father takes her back for a checkup, to see what is wrong, since medicine is crude and basically non-existent in this timeline. All seems well, and their mother is recovering, known through messages that can be sent back and forth – no video, since it takes too much bandwidth. But one day, right in the middle of a text messaging session with his best friend, stationed in a Chinese timeline, the machine suddenly stops, and says that there is no connection to the home office. They keep trying, but nothing. No transportation chamber is in the house, since it was never sent back, but was waiting for their parents to return. There is another one outside of town, which is how they arrive, as if “from a different town,” but when Jeremy checks, it too isn’t working. So they are cut off from their timeline, with no way of knowing when or if it will be fixed. And meanwhile, their northern neighbors, the Lietuvans, or lithuanians in their timeline, decide to try and seize their town, and so the kids are on their own, in a small ancient town under siege. How they cope with it, while trying to maintain their cover, and stay alive makes for a rousing adventure. Turtledove does a great job of making the world seem real and alive, and the explanations of the political systems are interesting and make great sense. I am looking forward to the next one, sitting in my TBR pile from the library. I will try and look for these at the used bookstores., as I would like to own them

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