The Destroyermen (Series) by Taylor Anderson
Okay, doing things a little bit different here -- this review isn't for a particular book, but rather for a series of books. I think you might like this series if you:
a.) like naval warfare fiction
b.) are a fan of alternative history, and
c.) don't care that everyone knows that you aren't reading Pulitzer-worthy material.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT! (Just a few.)
The Destroyermen is the name of the series that began back in 2008 with Into the Storm and now numbers 14 installments and counting. In that first book, Anderson introduced us to the crew of the fictional USS Walker, a WWI-vintage four-stacker that gets caught up in the early events of WWII in the Southwest Pacific. During the Battle of the Java Sea, Walker attempts to evade the Japanese by heading into an unusual squall. Afterwards she finds herself on an alternative Earth. The key word there is alternative, i.e. this other Earth ain't like the one the boys left behind. The biggest surprise is that the alternative Earth's indigenous "peoples" aren't exactly people. The America sailors, led by Lt. Matthew Reddy, find that humans are not the only sentient life forms on this other Earth (it's alternative history, after all), and that some of the other combatants in the series have, um, "unusual dining habits". Some of these creatures will eventually become close friends and allies of the destroyermen, and some will serve as particularly dangerous adversaries. Along the way, Reddy and his men will discover that their new home is populated by many other surprising and unexpected characters.
Anderson is a great storyteller, and does a fine job of vivifying his fictional world, including the setting, the cast of characters, and the of course the alternative history leading up to the events described in the series. The list of dramatis personae gets longer with each volume, despite the inevitable combat losses, thanks to the increasing number and complexity of plot strands. It can be a little difficult to remember just who is who as you read from one volume to the next. Fortunately, each book includes a list of characters, descriptions of the current military hardware in use, and orders of battle. Some of the characters we first meet are tantamount to Star Trek "red shirts", if you catch my meaning, but others remain central to the narrative, and it's easy to get attached to them. Don't get too attached, though, because just like Patrick O'Brian, Anderson doesn't hesitate to off a beloved character here and there.
Speaking of Patrick O'Brian, no one will ever mistake Anderson's work for that of the Aubrey & Maturin author. The Destroyermen will never be held up in any English lit class as an example of the highest form of prose. The dialogue, in particular is often long-winded, since it is used as a device for filling in relevant plot details. But where Anderson excels is in describing the action, complete with all of the little technical nuances that we fans of naval fiction appreciate. Anderson also keeps the story line moving forward at a brisk pace and in an engaging manner, such that each book winds up being one of those page-turning, "just one more chapter" types that gets devoured in just a few days -- or less. Take that, O'Brian! (BTW, I love the Aubrey/Maturin series.) What the reader will enjoy is seeing how Walker's crew uses their wits, ingenuity, and antiquated destroyer technology to face down and overcome an endless variety of novel and seemingly insurmountable challenges posed by the hostile new world that the men find themselves in. It's also fun to see them first adapt to this new world and eventually grow to appreciate it.
I just picked up the 14th book in the series, Pass of Fire, and I'm pretty certain that I will have read it through in just a couple of days. I'm fairly certain that this book will find Matthew Reddy and the ever-expanding forces at his command facing down some enormous threat, and it will conclude with a satisfying resolution of the current dilemma, but leave me hanging with the hint that a greater dilemma awaits in the next installment. This is a high compliment to Anderson's abilities -- that his alternative Earth and its multitude of characters haven't yet grown stale after over a dozen books, and that readers are still eagerly anticipating more exploits by The Destroyermen.
So, if you are looking for some light reading to kill time in between bouts of serious nautical research, if you enjoy some likeable characters and a good yarn, even if it isn't written in early 19th-century English, try The Destroyermen. You might find alternative history as enjoyable as real history!