“What if” is a two word question that vexes academics. Historians generally fall into two camps with when this line of dialogue appears: refute that fantastical propositioning is a waste of time, or, spend an inordinate amount of time creating narratives for nonexistent events. When it comes to academic study, the former option should always be employed. However, In the realm of popular writing, alternative-history is a niche market where those questions can readily be explored.
The First World War, alternatively also known as The Great War, was brought about militarily by a mass invasion of German forces through Belgium into France. The British Empire hinged its threats against Germany on any violation of Belgian neutrality. And since the pass through Alsace-Lorraine is awful for advancing armies, the German general staff concluded a swift punch of soldiering through the Low Countries could knock out France before numerically larger, but ill equipped Russia could mount a counter attack and come to its ally France’s aide.
In a line of questioning that causes wonder to every first-year history undergraduate and migraines for the majority of academic faculty, “what if the Kaiser’s army invaded Russia instead of France and Belgium?” is a perennial event.
Andrew J Heller, the author of Grey Tide in the East, provides a nuanced, if slightly passé narrative on how the aforementioned question would play out.
In turns both fantastical and at times vaudevillian, Heller approaches the war from the perspectives of a dozen or so minor characters.
Having spent a great deal of my adolescence reading Harry Turtledove, who rivals Tom Clancy in both verbosity and desperate need of an editor, I was contented that Heller’s work was relatively short and to the point.
The oral history style of the work was a welcome change from most military history which does not lend itself well to a broad audience.
While I am glad to be back reading serious history, it was a fun walk through a path not taken, and one which my history faculties are most likely glad came to a short conclusion.
Recommended for elementary readers of First World War European history.
Grey Tide in the East by Andrew J Heller. Strict Publishing International: 2013 164 Pages. Purchased copy.