Roc, 2008, 400 pages
Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy, along with the men and women of the USS Walker, have chosen sides in a war not of their making. They have allied with the Lemurians - a mammalian race whose peaceful existence is under attack from the warlike, reptilian Grik.
The Lemurians are vastly outnumbered and ignorant of warfare, and even the guns and technology of Walker cannot turn the tide of battle. Luckily, they are not alone. Reddy finally finds Mahan, the other destroyer that passed through the rift. Together, the two American ships will teach the Lemurians to fight and stand against the bloodthirsty Grik - or so they think.
For there is another vessel that does not belong on these strange seas - the massive Japanese battle cruiser Amagi, the very ship that Walker was fleeing from when the rift took them. Like Mahan, it followed them through. And now Amagi is in the hands of the Grik.
Book one in the Destroyermen series, Into the Storm, was fun and entertaining enough for me to read book two. I did not expect the second book to pull me in so deeply — by the end of Crusade, I was worrying about the fate of everyone from the USS Walker to the Lemurians they have allied with, and even the poor executive officer of the Japanese battleship Amagi, who's clearly realized his captain is insane.
A continuation of the story from the first book, and clearly the middle of a trilogy (that "trilogy" now being about nine books and counting), this second book is better in numerous ways. Since the setting — an alternate Earth in which instead of humans, there are evolved lemurs and dinosaurs — has already been established, there is more page count devoted to worldbuilding here, and while most of the focus is on the Lemurians, even the Grik get a little bit of development. They're still a faceless, cannibalistic horde, but at least now we've met their leaders and know a little bit about how they're able to operate sailing vessels.
The best part, though, and what's really making me like this series, is the way the Americans are portrayed as unabashedly heroic — not perfect, and not always right, but the crews of the USS Walker and Mahan are committed to a fight against an enemy just as bad as the Japanese they were fleeing from when they wound up on this world, and Crusade is a war story all the way through, a war story about good guys fighting bad guys. Does this make it a little simplistic, since the Grik are an even more one-dimensional evil than Nazis or Japanese? Yes, but it allows those who like heroic war stories to enjoy the uncomplicated ride.
It's also what you might call "hard science fiction," except that other than the alternate Earth, there isn't really much SF at all. Instead, it's pure naval action (well, also some land battles and even an aerial duel), with sailing ships of various types and climaxing with a chase/battle between the Walker and its vastly superior foe, the Amagi.
The tension ramps up in this volume as they discover that the Grik are gathering in a massive armada and about to invade the home of the Lemurians. Worse, they are accompanied by a Japanese battlecruiser. The climax is a real nail-biter and involves sacrifices, heroism, and of course, a to-be-continued.
The Destroyermen series is popcorn entertainment, but I'm really enjoying it.
Verdict: Better than the first book, Crusade made me a fan of this series. I know it's already become one of those series that goes on and on, so I hope it doesn't disappoint me in future volumes. Nothing more than a well-researched naval adventure/war story, I still enjoyed the heck out of this book. 9/10.
Also by Taylor Anderson: My review of Into the Storm.
My complete list of book reviews.