21 December 2007

Turtledove's best in this series since *How Few Remain*

The Grapple (Settling Accounts, book 3)
Harry Turtledove
Del Rey, 2007

I really enjoyed reading this installment of Turtledove's "what if the South won the civil war" alternative timeline. In fact, in my estimation, it was the best in the series since the inaugural volume, How Few Remain.

Other reviewers have commented, at length, about the book's (and the author's) failings, which are mainly that Turtledove tends to repeat some elements ad nauseum (e.g., Sam Carsten's pale skin sunburning, how good CSA tobacco is vs. the cigarettes from the USA, etc.), that he plays fast and loose with the "laws" of history, and that the series doesn't really provide more than glimpses into the wider World War.

Though these criticisms are not without merit, I found this the second-most engaging and compelling novel in Turtledove's Southern victory timeline. General Irving Morrell's brilliant campaign against the CSA not only sees the Confederate forces being routed in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but also drives the Confederate forces southward until they reach Atlanta, paralleling Sherman's march to the sea in our version of events. The Freedom party's West Texas death camp, Camp Determination, is attacked and exposed, and many "good Confederates" pay the ultimate price for enabling this monstrous facility. The transformation of Jeff Pinkard from a henpecked steelworking vet to engineer of genocide is complete. Negro guerillas in the South wreak havoc on rural white populations and in turn face attacks from Mexican conscripts. And as victory appears increasingly assured for the USA, both sides continue to work on the ultimate weapon, uranium bombs. And the CSA, in a surprising twist, reveal a few cards still up their rebel sleeves.

If you've liked the characters and interweaving storylines thus far, this novel will be a treat. Yes Turtledove tends to repeat himself and often uses shorthand to remind the reader of the extra-long back story, but that's ok. I couldn't imagine writing a story arch this massive without falling back on some of those same strategies. What makes this novel successful is that the story itself, filled as it is with both moral ambiguity and outrage, is one of the better chapters in the overall eleven-volume arch.

As I put the book down I could not wait to read the next and final volume.
(This review was originally written on July 6, 2007.)

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