Winds of Change (Empires Lost #2)
Charles S. Jackson

LATEST UPDATE – CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, I AM STILL ALIVE AND WRITING WHEN I CAN. ALTHOUGH MY FACEBOOK PAGE IS NO MORE, FOR THE TIME BEING I CAN BE FOUND AT UNTIL A MORE PERMANENT WEBSITE CAN BE ESTABLISHED (go to the above page for the latest news)NORTH SEPTEMBER 1942. As the Wehrmacht solidifies its unassailable hold on Western Europe and stands poised on the brink of total victory in North Africa, members of Thorne’s Hindsight team, alone and spread across the globe, work desperately to bring about a generational advance in American and Allied military technology. For two years, Britain has lain crushed beneath the boot heel of Nazi Occupation. The British government-in-exile battles to control the rest of its crumbling empire as unrest builds in Ulster over broken German promises of reunification with the weak but neutral Republic of Ireland. On the run in Northern England, Richard Kransky falls in with an IRA mission to evacuate to Ireland a man believed to be vital to the Allied war effort… a man whose escape the fanatical Sicherheitsdienst will do anything to prevent. Struggling with conscience and the voices in his own head, James Brandis hides behind the guise of a church curate in an Australian country town as he watches over the safety of a half-caste, Indigenous girl. Born out of the tragedy of the Stolen Generation, her survival lies entwined with Brandis’ agenda for the future. Questions arise over his own existence and true identity however as destiny forces his hand when Brandis is forced to protect her against a violent man with murder on his mind. In Egypt, the last ragged remnants of the British 8th Army prepare as best they can for a final Wehrmacht assault intended to drive the Allies from North Africa once and for all. Arriving in Suez amid wholesale evacuation and camps flooded with tens of thousands of refugees, Max Thorne and Eileen Donelson intend to field-test prototypes of a new and powerful main battle tank soon to be manufactured by the thousands in the United States. Reichsmarschall Kurt Reuters, acting on information from spies and fifth-columnists, devises a bold plan to rid himself of Max Thorne and Hindsight once and for all. As the final German assault on Suez begins and the trap is sprung, Thorne and Donelson find themselves forced into a desperate battle for their own survival as they race toward one last, slim chance of escape.

Winds of Change (Empires Lost #2) book cover

“What do you mean, they will not fly…?” The question was screamed with a volume and intensity that belied the Reichsmarschall’s advanced years and gave a clear indication that the man was a long way from being ready to retire. “We stand here at the cusp of handing the Verdammt English their greatest and most comprehensive defeat since the fall of Britain itself, and you’re telling me that my fucking Luftwaffe will not take off?”

There’s no denying that this work opens in a bleak, ravished world. Yet hope is alive and everyone has moved on from where we left them, and the great war machine continues to grind out equipment and grind up personnel with astonishing rapidity and devistation. Our heroes, no longer trying to hold fast in Scotland, are spread around the world; and Britain, or chillingly now the Reich-Protektorat Grossbritannien, is shivering beneath the “jackboot of racism and oppression”.

“Courage enough to threaten a fourteen-year-old boy over a few ill-chosen words, Mister McCaughey,” Levi observed coldly, not backing down for a moment. “What kind of strength d’you think you might find to take the fight to grown men who’ve killed your friends and enslaved your country?”

Pluck and courage rule the spirit, though, and just one of the incredible geographical expansions of this work gives us elements of the IRA doing their bit, and smuggling refugees across occupied borders is an exciting part of that for the reader. There’s an amazing, spine-tingling naval battle in chapter 6 which I took delight in slowly reading and making explosion noises to myself in the early hours of the morning.

When Mr Jackson expands, he doesn’t just add an element to things. We’ve spread our wings truly, the winds of change have blown an exiled British government as far as Australia, and the hight of the action in this novel climaxes in Egypt. Scotland isn’t neglected, there’s a rather important installation on the island of Soay in the St Kilda archipelago, and Australia and the Americas are represented as well. Italian combatants join the troops, and old faces make sometimes brief, but always exceptional appearances.

“I think I nearly made him say ‘fuck’ then,” Thorne remarked drily, as usual attempting to calm himself down through irreverence.
“He said ‘bollocks’ while you were gone,” Lloyd observed with a grin.
No prizes for guessing who they’re talking about, our true Gentleman of the sky (who as I recall saved a lot of bacon last time) is back doing what he does here in that jet of his.

There are the chronological developments to take into consideration. Phillip Brandis is perhaps the most shockingly intriguing of these, although poor Max seems on the verge of mental collapse on occasion too. It’s not confined to one side either, Reuters has a massive, volcanic shouting session at poor Albert during a major battle, and the mounting mental stress he’s under seems at least partially to blame.

There’s far too much I could mention to be comprehensive. The main body of action which has been building for a little more than the first half of the book goes on for many chapters, and although the last 20{ba150db230079cbbfb17b34eb2fb313f10dd1319d8aee46c92c08114bdec094f} of the work finishes up other details, the engagement still takes up many hundreds of words and had me captivated. The interesting point here is that we’re talking about a single day of action which, because of the book’s size, took me longer to read than it would have taken to see a Hollywood film, perhaps 2. That’s the kind of reading to totally engage a brain, I can assure you!

There was a powerful, painful death at the end of chapter 17, even though we see it coming, it still stung. In chapter 22, seeing the perspectives after the camps from Schiller’s point of view was almost as gutting as allied casualties,. The praying in the aircraft as it trundles down that runway was a scene so clear to picture, and the blood virus, such an invisible yet deadly detail, gives us us just one more thing to think about when next we step into this world, perfectly captured on the pages of Mr Jackson’s pièce de résistance.

He mentions in the author’s note that this eera is “the most written about subject in the entire genre of Alternate History”. I’m not a history connoisseur. I enjoy the story and the characters, and can, I hope, appreciate a little some of the unfathomable level of effort and detail Mr Jackson puts into his writing as a result. Everything from sound and smell, through temperature and texture is set down on the page for a reader to absorb. I’ve read a few other alternative history works, of course, and the majority due indeed focus on the era, but none approach it with the richness, the clarity, the reality this can muster.

I have been privileged to spend another week with characters old and new, in places familiar and far afield, surrounded by language sometimes harsh, but always descriptive and a story with complexity, yes, but also with purpose and secrets yet to be revealed behind it. Charles Jackson has my gratitude and my money both, and these shall follow with, I hope, more installments to come. There’s enough material here already to produce many hours of a slow-burning major TV series of the highest calibre. Why have Graphic Audio not come a-knocking at least? TO anyone reading these words, I can guarantee you a copy of this and its predecessor will give you hour upon hour of the most captivating, detailed writing you can find anywhere. A postscript: it’s not just me, an Amazon reviewer calls it “perhaps the most absorbing WWII alternate history novel of all time”.

Published by Sean Randall

I am an avid reader, technologist and disability advocate living in the middle of England with my wife, daughter and pets.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *