Saturday, June 19, 2021

Book Review: Shadows of Annihilation, by S.M. Stirling

In the third book of S.M. Stirling’s alternate history of the Great War, Shadows of Annihilation, the shoe is firmly on the other foot. In the latest instalment, our heroes, the intrepid American Black Chamber super-spies Luz O’Malley Arostegui and Ciara Whelan must foil a plot aimed (where else? ) squarely at America. 

In the first two instalments of the trilogy, Arostegui and Whelan operated behind enemy lines. But now they are on home turf and must stop a team composed of Luz’s old enemy, Horst von Drucker, real-life stormtrooper Ernst Rohm, and a band of scraggily Mexican banditos that look like they came from Central Casting.

Here be Spoilers:

The enemy's target is a large industrial complex in the Mexican Protectorate (in this universe, where Teddy Roosevelt won re-election in 1912, the US has occupied Mexico since 1916), operating under the ominous name of the Dakota Project. Since using the so-called “horror gas” on France and England and its attempted use on the US east coast in 1916 in the first book of the series, Theatre of Spies, Imperial Germany has had pretty much Europe to itself. 

The gas has become the nuclear deterrent of its time, with neither side daring to use it on the other for fear of the consequences. However, the US and the Entente’s stocks are based on what has been stolen from the Germans, and they are slowly becoming inert, hence the need for the Dakota Project. 

When Arostegui and Whelan are sent into Mexico to assess the security of the vital project, they initially have no idea that the Germans are in-country and pose a threat to the project. What we get instead, is kind of an alternate-history travelogue, showing in great detail how Mexico has benefitted under America’s benign but firm hand.  It’s the kind of world-building that Stirling excels at. 

Unfortunately, it’s only about halfway through the proceedings that our protagonists realize that something is amiss. As the scattered reports come in, they put two and two together. 

The book's structure relies upon two widely divergent points of view (Drucker vs. Arostegui and Whelan) and only seems to really come together in the final reel. Personally, this makes for a little dry reading at times. 

These criticisms aside, Shadows of Annihilation is a good book. It benefits from solid characterizations and world-building but perhaps could’ve done with more attention to Drucker and company, as they almost seem to become missing in action at times.

Nevertheless, this is a necessary read for followers of the series and a recommended one for fans of the genre.

What's Next

I'll have another work of alternate history to share with you next month.  As a note, I've paid for most of the books that I've reviewed in this space out of my own pocket.  If you're an author and would like me to review your genre work (alternate history only please!) please reach out to me at

 In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.

Until then, please take care of  yourselves.