A work of speculative fiction focuses on World War II.
This volume, the first in Weatherly’s (Sheppard of the Argonne, 2014) new Allies and Enemies series, follows in the wake of his previous novel. It’s military fiction with a twist, as he explores what naval warfare would have look like during World War II if the 1922 Five-Power Treaty limiting shipbuilding hadn’t happened. In his author’s note, he explains, “I chose to accelerate some technology development such as ship building, metallurgy, ordinance, and radar, while keeping others such as aircraft close to the actual timelines since that development was not restricted by treaty.” As this tale opens, Capt. Sheppard McCloud is a reluctant national hero after the Allies’ victory in the Battle of Cape Vilan. Instead of celebrating, Sheppard remains haunted by the many sailors who died: “Oceanic swells left no tombstones, no markers for young lives snuffed short at his order.” Although Sheppard enjoys his days with his soul mate and wife, Evelyn, he’s soon temporarily distracted from his nightmares by new orders. He and his Argonne crew must sneak Adm. John Hamblen across the Atlantic to persuade the French navy not to turn over their ships to the Axis. But it’s hard to hide a massive battle cruiser such as the Argonne, and before long, Sheppard is entangled in a conflict that he is unlikely to win with the Italians and Germans. Weatherly has a sterling protagonist in the tormented Sheppard, who is highly skilled as a leader but who tends to dwell on his losses rather than his wins. The author’s detailed descriptions of the battles give the reader a real “you-are-there” feeling. The flip side is that the minutiae he provides can be overwhelming at times. Do readers really need a two-page, step-by-step description of how shells are fired? Still, Weatherly makes it possible to hear the crash of the guns and the rending of steel as a shell hits. Readers don’t have to understand everything the author supplies to realize how much must go right for a ship to survive rather than sink. That’s why his books work.
A bracing start to a new series about naval warfare.