During the Second Battle of the Java Sea, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy and the crew of the destroyer USS Walker have been ordered to pull out of the Philippines. As they attempt to flee with several other Allied Navy ships, they’re attacked by the Japanese. The Allied ships are sunk, one by one, until only USS Walker and the crippled USS Mahan are left. When the huge Japanese battlecruiser Amagi shows up with its Kamikazes, Captain Reddy knows they’re lost — Walker, an old ship which was about to be decommissioned before WWII started, can’t stand up to the new Japanese ships. The only hope is to try to hide Walker and Mahan in a squall a few miles away.
When they enter the storm, they notice some strange phenomena with the rain and the sea, but things get really weird when they exit. There’s no radio traffic, Amagi and its planes are gone, and there’s a gigantic fish eating Japanese sailors (they manage to save one of them to hold as prisoner). When they meet a colossal wooden ship sailed by a species that looks like a cross between lemurs and cats, they realize that was no ordinary squall they passed through.
This is a parallel earth where evolution took different paths. While the climate, seas, land masses, and oil deposits are essentially the same, the animal species are different. There seem to be two sentient species. The Lemurians are passive and friendly but the Grik are definitely not. Courtney Bradford, the Australian oil company man whose hobby is naturalism, thinks they descended from the velociraptor. The Grik walk on two legs, have small arms, attack viciously, and devour their prey with their sharp teeth. After the Grik attack and kill some of the Walker men, Captain Reddy decides to help defend the Lemurian ship from a Grik attack. The humans don’t want to be involved in their war, but they need allies in this new world and the Grik are obviously the bad guys.
Into the Storm (2008) is the first book in a Taylor Anderson’s DESTROYERMEN series, which is currently seven books long (Iron Gray Sea, the seventh book, comes out next month). I was attracted to it because I love Patrick O’Brian’s AUBREY/ MATURIN series (I read all 20½ books) and DESTROYERMEN marries that same kind of naval historical fiction with fantasy — what could be better?
Well, Taylor Anderson’s utilitarian writing style isn’t quite as appealing as Patrick O’Brian’s, but he writes with plenty of emotion, just the right amount of humor, and lots of knowledge. Anderson is an academic historian, a forensic ballistic archaeologist, a movie consultant, and a sailor. I was impressed with the amount of research that was evident in Into the Storm. The battles and warships Taylor uses in his plot are real (until the weird storm, of course) and I felt confident that he had his facts straight about what Walker and the other ships were like.
By necessity, there’s a large cast of characters in Into the Storm. At first it’s hard to keep them all straight, but Anderson manages to give the important ones distinct personalities. They felt real to me and I liked the ones I was supposed to like. The action is non-stop and exciting: torpedoes explode, ships sink, people get eaten by dinosaurs. But there is also time for humor, character development and occasional reflection about war, nationalism, justice, and evolution.
The American patriotism may be too much for some readers (especially if they’re not American), and the hatred of the “Japs” is a constant theme, but it fits the context. Anderson makes the American sailors more palatable by giving them a different enemy in the parallel world. Instead of Japanese, they’re fighting a mindless horde of ugly ferocious reptiles. It’s an easy way out, but did we really want them fighting humans?
I had a lot of fun with Into the Storm, so I couldn’t resist picking up book 2, Crusade. The men of Walker are dejected — far from home and lonely. There are only two human women on this world, but there are indications that a group of humans were seen on the world generations ago. Might there be a human population somewhere? I have to find out what happens to these guys!
I’m listening to Tantor Audio’s version which is narrated by William Dufris. He overdoes a few of the accents, but mostly he gives a great performance. I’ll be reading the rest of the series on audio, too.