The Company of the Dead – David Kowalski

I read advance reviews of this book before its UK publication, and it sounded like the sort of thing I’d like, so I ordered it in advance. I was so interested that I started on it before some other books that have been patiently waiting on my Kindle for months, but that’s the kind of thing I tend to do…

Anyway, this was first published in Australia a while back, but appeared here this year, presumably in an attempt to hook into all the Titanic centenary fun and games, which seems like a good move, as the story starts with the Titanic centenary. Except it’s not our Titanic centenary, oh no. Things are very different in this 2012. The United States has again divided into a Union and a Confederacy – though without a civil war this time. The two major powers are the empires of Japan and Russia. Hitler was a successful artist. Germany won what’s still referred to as The Great War, and a very different European War took place around the middle of the previous century. And it’s quite clear to informed observers that the world is going to hell without the aid of a handbasket very soon. War is looming, and both the major parties have new atomic weapons which they seem keen to use.

Now that might be the basis of a nice alternative history novel, and in part that’s what this is, but there’s more. Sailing into New York on a replica of the Titanic, newly appointed Captain Lightoller (a descendant of an officer on the original ship) soon gets pulled into a strange adventure.  Agents of the Confederate states, led by a Kennedy, armed with a letter of authority from the British King, recruit him for an unbelievable mission.

In this world, the Titanic missed its appointment with the iceberg thanks to the intervention of a time traveller called Wells.[1] While Wells prevented the disaster that happened in our world, he failed to take account for the fact that there were lots more icebergs, and so the ship still met with disaster, this time with an even greater loss of life, and at least one survivor who didn’t make it in our time line. Wells left a journal describing his actions in the safe on the Titanic, and this has now been recovered.

And so we get into a long, possibly overlong story of getting to the mysterious time machine[2] in a desperate attempt to reset the world and undo the damage Wells did. There’s lots of conspiracy, and for my taste an excess of bloody battle scenes, but overall there was enough to keep me reading and wanting to see how it would end.

I’d give it a qualified recommendation. It would have benefited from a bit of editing for length and to remove a repeated howler in which the speed of a ship is given in

knots per hour

which even a dedicated landlubber like me knows is very wrong.

Good fun though. The background of the changed world is revealed gradually, with not too many infodumps, and it all fits together pretty well. If you like a good time paradox, a bit of alternative history or a thriller, you may enjoy this.

[1] Well, of course…
[2] It arrived from the future. In Roswell. In 1947. Oh dear