Blaise Maximillian: Bitter Defeat.
3.5 stars out of 5.
For 8 long years the Great War has raged. Blaise Maximillian has been there from the start. A bright-eyed and fearful young Ensign, the realities of war change him into a hard-bitten soldier and an even harder policeman.
Detective Inspector Blaise Maximillian of the Combined Imperial Special Intelligence Bureau, now works to protect the British Empire any way he can. Nothing will stop him from carrying out his duty. Not the law, not morals, not even ethics. A flawed man, he will do anything it takes.
Bitter defeat tells the story of Maximillian Blaise through a series of intertwining yet separate short stories. The book contains a total of twenty chapters/stories with eighteen focusing on tales about Maximillian and the final two focusing on two separate female characters.
I’ll just quickly mention the final two stories, writing that both introduce a couple of interesting new characters and are fun little snippets into those characters lives.
The book itself has its base in reality and history with WW1 but it’s an alternate version of our history and the war itself lasts far longer, finally ending on St George’s Day in 1923, a humiliating way for the war to end for Britain. Incorporated into this alternate version are elements of ‘dieselpunk’ where the Germans won because of the armour and weapons that they invented. The German technology is all very plausible and the author does a great job of showing the feeling of dread that comes from not knowing what they will create next and what is likely to come over no mans land and attack the trenches, be it a new weapon, armour or an even more deadly and lethal gas. Making this an alternate history that feels very accurate due to the details and depiction of The Great War.
Now, back to Maximillian, the eighteen stories take place during the years of WW1 (The Great War) starting from the begin of Maximillian’s journey as a patriotic and fresh-faced ensign, who dislikes killing as taking a life is wrong “though shalt not murder” from the seven commandments through to the war’s end years later with the bitter defeat. Then moving onwards into Maximillian’s post war career in the Police force.
Incorporated throughout the selection of stories is Maximillian’s transformation from that young unblooded officer into a grizzled and battle-hardened veteran who does what’s needed to survive and who will take the life of an enemy without thinking twice about it. The actual characterisation of Maximillian is really good throughout the collection as we see him change from the character we first encounter and with each short we see that change happening just a little bit more. In the end he is a dark and does what needs to be done without a second thought – it’s a completely different genre but by the end I was really feeling a Grimdark like anti-hero character vibe coming from Maximillian.
Each of the shorts during the time frame of WW1 give a small snapshot into the life in the trenches of The Great War, and are as such dark and grittily depicted with the horrors of trench warfare showing you the appalling nature in vivid and graphic detail.
The shorts that take place after the Bitter Defeat of the title are also dark in nature showing you an oppressed Britain under a dystopian German rule. And the setting, will feel recognisable to anyone that has played the most recent Wolfenstein: The New Order video game, likewise the German technology during the war whilst not as advanced as in the video game is definitely reminiscent of it. Yes, for any of you reading this who are gamers, I’m one myself to and I know that Wolfenstein: The New Order takes place after WW2 and not WW1 like this book, I’m merely making the comparison.
The writing of the book is vivid and brutal and is perhaps not for those who don’t like violence and gore in their books. Likewise there is also quite a lot of swearing. Swearing doesn’t bother me but I’m not sure if it is authentic to the era or not.
The pacing of the book is also generally good, none of the shorts overstay their welcome but some could do with being longer and you find that they have finished before they have even began.
Also, on occasion the author has a slight tendency to repeat himself, the main culprit being when Maximillian and his soldiers are in the trenches, wet, sodden and caked in mud and then a grenade goes off or something explodes and the author states that the heat is drying them. It’s only a slight point that’s not really worth mentioning if the book were an actual book but being a collection of shorts, those few repeated words could have been used to better effect in the short.
Another problem that I had, was with the editing, there’s nothing wrong with the formatting – I read the book on the Kindle, the grammar or even the spelling. But, on quite a few occasions the wrong word is used, taking you out of the story as you have to stop and think for a second before realising it’s an error and having that ‘ah, he means that’ moment. Now, I myself did that on a blog post the other week even after spell checking as the word wasn’t actually spelt incorrectly only the wrong word. It was Brian and Brain and while typing the author’s name I had inadvertently typed Brain instead of Brian, so it’s easily done and I had to have it pointed out to me. But in an actual book, you would think that not necessarily the author, but the copy and proof editors should have picked up on the fault as it happens quite a few times throughout the book.
I’m not the biggest fan of short story collections but overall I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into this selection and don’t regret my time spent reading Maximillian Blaise: The Bitter Defeat. Even with its flaws this is a decent book and the author is talented with a good concept and idea that is open to future possibilities. And, I would like to see both the concept explored further in either another collection of shorts or a proper full length book and for Blaise to return.
There’s a lot to like in the book and I would recommend it for fans of WW1, alternate history and those who enjoy a decent quick read with an engaging hero as the main character.
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