Book Review: The Voyage of the Iron Dragon

“The Voyage of the Iron Dragon” by Robert KroeseThis is the third and final volume in the Iron Dragon trilogy which began with The Dream of the Iron Dragon and continued in The Dawn of the Iron Dragon. When reading a series of books I’ve discovered, I usually space them out to enjoy them over time, but the second book of this trilogy left its characters in such a dire pickle I just couldn’t wait to see how the author managed to wrap up the story in just one more book and dove right in to the concluding volume. It is a satisfying end to the saga, albeit in some places seeming rushed compared to the more deliberate development of the story and characters in the first two books.

First of all, this note. Despite being published in three books, this is one huge, sprawling story which stretches over more than a thousand pages, decades of time, and locations as far-flung as Constantinople, Iceland, the Caribbean, and North America, and in addition to their cultures, we have human spacefarers from the future, Vikings, and an alien race called the Cho-ta’an bent on exterminating humans from the galaxy. You should read the three books in order: Dream, Dawn, and Voyage. If you start in the middle, despite the second and third volumes’ having a brief summary of the story so far, you’ll be completely lost as to who the characters are, what they’re trying to do, and how they ended up pursuing the desperate and seemingly impossible task in which they are engaged (building an Earth-orbital manned spacecraft in the middle ages while leaving no historical traces of their activity which later generations of humans might find). “Read the whole thing,” in order. It’s worth it.

With the devastating events which concluded the second volume, the spacemen are faced with an even more daunting challenge than that in which they were previously engaged, and with far less confidence of success in their mission of saving humanity in its war for survival against the Cho-ta’an more than 1500 years in their future. As this book begins, more than two decades have passed since the spacemen crashed on Earth. They have patiently been building up the infrastructure required to build their rocket, establishing mining, logging, materials processing, and manufacturing at a far-flung series of camps all linked together by Viking-built and -crewed oceangoing ships. Just as important as tools and materials is human capital: the spacemen have had to set up an ongoing programme to recruit, educate, and train the scientists, engineers, technicians, drafters, managers, and tradespeople of all kinds needed for a 20th century aerospace project, all in a time when only a tiny fraction of the population is literate, and they have reluctantly made peace with the Viking way of “recruiting” the people they need.

The difficulty of all of this is compounded by the need to operate in absolute secrecy. Experience has taught the spacemen that, having inadvertently travelled into Earth’s past, history cannot be changed. Consequently, nothing they do can interfere in any way with the course of recorded human history because that would conflict with what actually happened and would therefore be doomed to failure. And in addition, some Cho-ta’an who landed on Earth may still be alive and bent on stopping their project. While they must work technological miracles to have a slim chance of saving humanity, the Cho-ta’an need only thwart them in any one of a multitude of ways to win. Their only hope is to disappear.

The story is one of dogged persistence, ingenuity in the face of formidable obstacles everywhere; dealing with adversaries as varied as Viking chieftains, the Vatican, Cho-ta’an aliens, and native American tribes; epic battles; disheartening setbacks; and inspiring triumphs. It is a heroic story on a grand scale, worthy of inclusion among the great epics of science fiction’s earlier golden ages.

When it comes to twentieth century rocket engineering, there are a number of goofs and misconceptions in the story, almost all of which could have been remedied without any impact on the plot. Although they aren’t precisely plot spoilers, I’ll take them behind the curtain for space-nerd readers who wish to spot them for themselves without foreknowledge.

Despite the minor quibbles in the spoiler section (which do not detract in any way from enjoyment of the tale), this is a rollicking good adventure and satisfying conclusion to the Iron Dragon saga. It seemed to me that the last part of the story was somewhat rushed and could have easily occupied another full book, but the author promised us a trilogy and that’s what he delivered, so fair enough. In terms of accomplishing the mission upon which the spacemen and their allies had laboured for half a century, essentially all of the action occurs in the last quarter of this final volume, starting in chapter 44. As usual nothing comes easy, and the project must face a harrowing challenge which might undo everything at the last moment, then confront the cold equations of orbital mechanics. The conclusion is surprising and, while definitively ending this tale, leaves the door open to further adventures set in this universe.

This series has been a pure delight from start to finish. It wasn’t obvious to this reader at the outset that it would be possible to pull time travel, Vikings, and spaceships together into a story that worked, but the author has managed to do so, while maintaining historical authenticity about a neglected period in European history. It is particularly difficult to craft a time travel yarn in which it is impossible for the characters to change the recorded history of our world, but this is another challenge the author rises to and almost makes it look easy. Independent science fiction is where readers will find the heroes, interesting ideas, and adventure which brought them to science fiction in the first place, and Robert Kroese is establishing himself as a prolific grandmaster of this exciting new golden age.

The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Kroese, Robert. The Voyage of the Iron Dragon. Grand Rapids MI: St. Culain Press, 2019. ISBN 978-1-7982-3431-0.

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

One thought on “Book Review: The Voyage of the Iron Dragon

  1. I ordered the first two books after reading their JohnWalker reviews. I enjoyed them very much, in fact it was hard to stop reading until I finished both books. I kept looking for a review of the third book, but managed to come across it just before the review here. It is as good as the first two. The reviews were also excellent. Thank you.

    I find many very good things on the site. I am mostly a lurker, but decided this time to actually say thanks.

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