Gunpowder Empire by Harry Turtledove
First in the Crosstime Traffic series
Finished: Apr. 22, 2008
First Published: 2003
Genre: YA, science fiction, alternate history
When Jeremy Solters found a note from his mother in his lunchbox, he started to laugh.
Reason for Reading: I read Ruled Britannia some years ago and loved it. At that time, none of the author's other books appealed to me. I was browsing the YA section of my library a few weeks ago and noticed this series which he has written since I last looked. The concept sounded interesting.
Comments: It is the late 21st century and technology has found a way to travel between alternate realities. Dozens have been found so far with potentially hundreds more to be found. In this time of depleted natural resources, citizens of our world travel incognito in families to alternate realities as traders.
The Solters arrive in Aggripan Rome for their summer job as traders; trading mirrors, razors, Swiss army knives and hour-reckoners for grain. This is an alternate where Rome did not fall but has flourished pretty much unchanging for two thousand years. This is a world where slavery is the norm, woman are second-class citizens and red tape and bureaucracy run rampant.
Everything is going as normal for the Solters until the mother gets appendicitis and must go home for surgery. The father takes her, leaving 17 year old Jeremy and his slightly younger sister holding the fort. Shortly after they leave something happens to their communication devices and they loose contact with the home timeline. If that weren't bad enough the Lietuvans are invading and their town comes under siege.
This book had a very promising storyline but it didn't live up to its expectations. I found the writing quite simplistic and stilted. Way too much time was spent telling the reader how different this world was from the teens' home world rather than having things happen that would have illustrated the point in a much more interesting manner. I often wished he would just get on with the story. Honestly, I felt as if the author dumbed down his writing for the YA crowd. Since this is his first foray into YA literature and there are several more titles in this series, with another coming out this year, I wonder if perhaps the books get better.
In spite of the problems with the writing, the story was compelling and the world of crosstime travel is very intriguing. This is a decent enough story, it just had the potential to be much better. The book is an easy read and I am interested enough to give the next in the series a try to see if it does get better.