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The Way She Reads

My thoughts on everything I read; good, bad and indifferent.
The Company of the Dead - David Kowalski I actually rated this book 4.5 stars but decided to round it up since it is a fascinating read.

It is April 1912 and Jonathan Wells is travelling on the Titanic towards New York. Armed with knowledge that he shouldn’t be able to have he is on a mission to save the ship from the Iceberg that would make the ships maiden-voyage also her last. His action will have shocking results for the world, results Wells couldn’t have foreseen and doesn’t live to experience.
In April 2012 a newly build copy of the Titanic is finishing its anniversary voyage to New York under captain Lightholler, a descendant of two passengers on the original ship. His ship is sailing through a world in which America never entered World War I and is split along a newly established Mason-Dickson line and the whole world is divided up between two empires ruled by Japan from the east and Germany from the west.
In this version of America Joseph Kennedy, grand-nephew to John F. Kennedy is on a mission to restore history to what it should have been. Armed with Wells’ journal and the same means of travelling through time, Kennedy is determined to save the world from the faith that awaits it as a result of Wells’ well meant but disastrous intervention.
While Kennedy is assembling the team he needs to accomplish his goal he is being pursuit by his military superiors, represented by Agent Patricia Malcolm, a woman he has a history with.
With the world on the brink of a massive conflict and nuclear weapons being available to the armies for the first time, Kennedy and his team have to stay alive and ahead of their pursuers for long enough to be able to get back to the Titanic and save the world from certain destruction in a quest that may well end up killing Kennedy, if not all of them.

This is an ambitious and fascinating book. David Kowalski has gone all out in creating an alternative world for us and created a place that we can still recognise yet different enough from our reality to make you wonder what if. What if America really hadn’t entered World War I, what if Hitler had never come to power, what if America had not remained the United States, what if…. There are too many what-ifs to list them all here, and all of them are plausible enough to make you shudder.
It takes a while before the reader has a real idea of what is going on in the story. Kowalski takes his time introducing the characters and even longer revealing their motivation and with a few characters I still wasn’t sure exactly what they were up to by the time the book had ended.
This is a book that is hard to categorize. A lot of different genres are integrated into one narrative whole. This is an alternative history story with elements that are pure science-fiction. We find ourselves in the middle of a strategic war story, as well as a fast paced thriller with conspiracies thrown in and some romance for good measure.
The reader is taken from the Titanic to Roswell and back to the Titanic in a story that opens their eyes to the fragility of history. The big question in this book is whether history develops according to a certain path or whether it is all a matter of chance, a question I will be pondering for a while yet.

For me there were one or two downsides to this novel. The military strategizing was way over my head and I found I couldn’t quite visualise the battle scenes. I’m convinced though that this is probably a result of my mind-set rather than any failing on the author’s part.
There was one story-line that I still couldn’t make complete sense of even after I finished the book, one character whose motivation and ultimate goal never became completely clear to me.
I also feel that Kowalski’s emphasis on action came at the cost of good characterisation. Although I did get some feeling for the various personalities in this book there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to them.

Overall though, I have to conclude that this is an original, fascinating and almost impossible to put down book. While I thoroughly enjoyed this reading experience I think anybody who loves science fiction and/or time-travel and/or alternative histories will adore this book.