19 December 2007

If you've read the first seven installments, my review is probably moot

Return Engagement (Settling Accounts, book 1)
Harry Turtledove
Del Rey, 2005

Anyone who is going to read this book should know, if they don't already, that it is the 8th volume in a series extending back to the classic How Few Remain. Beginning with the premise that the South won the American Civil War, Turtledove has created an entire "what if" universe in which the USA and CSA have remained mortal enemies through the late 1930s. Seeing the horrors of modern warfare---entrenched soldiers, nightly bombing raids, poison gas---visited upon familiar places like Columbus, Philadelphia, and Richmond serves to remind the reader how lucky Americans were to have avoided such massive destruction and bloodshed during the last century.

The newest novel in the series begins with a surprise Confederate attack on the USA. Although the characters don't know it, World War II has begun. Throughout the novel we follow familiar characters on various "sides" in the war as the two nations prepare to engage in one of the bloodiest conflicts the war has seen. (The Freedom Party dominated-CSA, playing the role of the Nazis, is also embarking on its quest to eliminate the untermenschen and solve the "black problem" once and for all.)

Turtledove continues to use multiple personal perspectives to paint an intimate portrait of the times, and his habit of killing off a few of these characters in each novel simply serves to underline the "reality" of the story. (As well, I applaud his use of normal, non-military circumstances---like car wrecks, domestic abuse, old age, disease, etc---to kill off characters, because that is the way real life works.) His pacing is excellent, and the novel, like its seven predecessors, is a page-turner. As well, like the best of alternate history, Turtledove's work allows us an interesting vantage point from which to look at our own history and see why things turned out the way that they did.

(This review was originally written on June 23, 2006.)

No comments: