Roc, 2008, 400 pages
Pressed into service when World War II breaks out in the Pacific, the USS Walker---a Great-War vintage "four-stacker" destroyer---finds itself in full retreat from pursuit by Japanese battleships. Its captain, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Patrick Reddy, knows that he and his crew are in dire straits. In desperation, he heads Walker into a squall, hoping it will give them cover---and emerges somewhere else.
Familiar landmarks appear, but the water teems with monstrous, vicious fish. And there appear to be dinosaurs grazing on the plains of Bali. Gradually Matt and his crew must accept the fact that they are in an alternate world---and they are not alone. Humans have not evolved, but two other species have. And they are at war.
With its steam power and weaponry, the Walker's very existence could alter the balance of power. And for Matt and his crew, who have the means to turn a primitive war into a genocidal Armageddon, one thing becomes clear: They must decide whose side they're on. Because whoever they choose to side with is the winner.
This is a high concept novel that isn't much deeper than its premise: the USS Walker, an old World War I-era destroyer pressed into service for the Second World War, finds itself pursued by a vastly superior Japanese force. Heading into a storm to escape, the Walker winds up in an alternate timeline. Here, humans never evolved - instead, there are two sentient races, one descended from lemurs, and one from dinosaurs.
The crew of the Walker is made up of the sort of rather flat archetypes typical in a war story, and the book reads a lot like the opening of roleplaying game campaign, where the players have their character sheets and have described their characters in a few broad strokes, but are waiting for their personalities to be developed further in play. Besides dashing Captain Reddy, there are an assortment of old salts, eager young swabs, troublemaking squids, Marines, a few token female romantic interests (some nurses had been taken aboard the Walker), and a Japanese officer who was taken prisoner just before the Walker fled.
The crew of the Walker doesn't take long to figure out that they're not in Kansas anymore. When they witness a battle between the Lemurians and the reptilian Grik, Captain Reddy is understandably reluctant to immediately take sides when they don't really know anything about either side. However, mammalian solidarity wins out, and the Walker sinks the Grik ships... which happen to look exactly like 19th-century sailing vessels from Earth.
There are many seeds planted in this first book in a series. We know that other ships from different periods in our Earth's history have wound up here, and the book ends with the fate of the Walker's sister ship, the Mahon, which also came into this world, unknown. The Grik are so far just a faceless horde: despite being intelligent enough to build and operate sailing vessels, they have no personalities or culture beyond mindless bloodlust.
The Destroyermen series is up to nine books now. I enjoyed this enough to move onto the next book; we shall see how long the series holds my interest.
Verdict: All the fun is in the concept — Into the Storm is basically a space opera without the space. The saga of the USS Walker begins here in what looks like one of those series that goes on and on — nonetheless, the first book is all action with minimal worldbuilding, and enough fun for me to read the second.
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