Author: Preston Fleming

Publisher: PF Publishing (October 15, 2017)
ASIN: B075RRR682

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of reading and reviewing a string of titles from author Preston Fleming. These books have included FORTY Days at Kamas, Star Chamber Brotherhood, Exile Hunter, Bride of a Bygone War, and Dynamite Fisherman. For each of these adventures, it was difficult or impossible for me to predict where Fleming was going to take his readers. I did know that his knowledge of history was going to provide depth and verisimilitude to his stories. In addition, he’s always had a knack for fleshing out memorable characters.

It’s been three years since we had a new Fleming novel to read, so in some ways Maid of Baikal is long overdue. But “long” is the operative word for this epic yarn. Once again, there’s no way to predict what is going to happen in this new alternative history about the Russian Civil War of 1917-1919, especially as the story opens in a battle in the Philippines. Then, events in Russia don’t go the way of actual history, even if Fleming’s settings, events, and characters are more often than not, completely believable. For the most part. That’s despite the fact the Siberian “Maid of Baikal,” Zhanna Dorokhina, is very much in the mold of Joan of Arc. She’s a young woman hearing voices that prophecy the future, give her the perseverance and charisma to take her message to Admiral Kolchak, who is the skeptical and uneasy leader of the White Russians, and provide her with impossiblely spot on military advice as she leads one of the White Russian armies against the Bolsheviks. So, in a number of sections, we’re experiencing mystical mythology as much as alternate reality. 

But Dorokhina’s quest is but one plotline woven throughout the long epic.  We spend much more time with Ned Du Pont, allegedly an American advisor to the undersupplied and unorganized White Russians. In fact, He’s a spy whose main mission is to find ways to help the various anti-Bolshevik armies beef up their manpower, resources, and strength while keeping his government constantly up to date with what is going on with the White Russian forces. He’s a consistent if reluctant supporter of Dorokhina, even after he learns the two of them are not likely to have the romantic connection he hopes for. At First.  For a rich Russian widow sees him, likes what she sees, and a full-blown affair begins despite the rules against American/ Russian fraternization of this kind. 

Such relationships are painted with subtle shadings as Ned, the Maid, the Admiral, and the widow are drawn into more and more complex situations involving a wide cast of characters. And this cast all have a large spectrum of conflicting motivations, most revolving around self-interest. From the beginning, Fleming makes it clear he has rather cerebral purposes in mind, such as his opening each chapter with a literary or historical quotation followed by a note suggesting the chapter in question be read while listening to chosen selections from specific period Russian musical compositions. I suspect few of us will take the time to leap through these hoops; still, give the man points for creativity.

In short, Preston Fleming has spun a yarn full of originality with a unique approach giving us a rather positive alternate storyline of what might have happened if the White Russians, the Yanks, the British as well as God above had cooperated in the years following World War I.  I admit, there are sections that drag, as in the extended cease fire in the latter chapters. It’s a refreshing perspective in this era of dystopian fears for our future to imagine instead what might have happened if Lenin and Trotsky had failed.