Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Book Review: Settling Accounts: In At The Death by Harry Turtledove

This novel is the last in Harry Turtledove's eleven-volume alternate history of America. The point of departure was 1862, when the South defeated the Union army at the Battle of Antietam, and thence the War of Secession. The U.S. and the Confederacy then went to war again in 1881, which again ended in a Southern victory, largely due to incompetent U.S. leadership.

The Great War pitted the U.S., Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire against the Confederacy, Britain, France, and Russia. The Central Powers crushed their enemies in the war, but the seeds of violence germinated throughout the 1920s and 30s, especially under fascist governments in France and the Confederacy.

A confused and defeated Confederacy fell under the spell of the maniacal fascist leader Jake Featherstone, who secretly re-armed the Confederacy all while promising the foolish, pacifistic government of the U.S. that his intentions were peaceful. As a result, his armies almost reached Cleveland before the U.S. turned the tide at the Battle of Pittsburgh.

Settling Accounts: In at the Death begins in 1943, while the Confederacy is in its death throws. But the war is not over yet, as all of the major powers are racing to develop atomic weaponry before their enemies do.

At the end of the last book in the series, the U.S. Army captured a Confederate death camp outside of Snyder, Texas, which was part of a systematic campaign to exterminate the South's Black population. More than eight million Confederate Blacks were murdered in such facilities, and this book addresses the reactions that follow: shock, horror, outrage, indifference, and praise.

I've long enjoyed Harry Turtledove's alternate histories, largely because he produced them in such quantity and they were historically plausible (unlike, for example, the preposterous 1901). He is a Ph.D. trained historian, which is of enormous benefit to the composition of these works. However, he had been slow to develop as a novelist. This book is a marked improvement in his skills in character development, dialogue, and the other elements of skilled wordcraft for fiction.

Grade: A-

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