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Settling Accounts: Return Engagement

Author: Harry Turtledove
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Tom Feller

10290401I should know better than to get hooked on an unending fantasy series. I have studiously avoided Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, for instance. My only excuse is that when I picked up the first book in paperback, How Few Remain (1997), it was not packaged as a series. Now I eagerly await each installment, purchase the hardcover version as soon as it is available, and read it as soon as possible. The premise of the series is that Lee defeated McClellan at the Battle of Antietam, and, consequently, the South won the American Civil War. Turtledove is now up to the eighth book and the year is 1941. The Confederate States of America (CSA) and the United States of America (USA) are at war for the fourth time in less than 100 years. The CSA is allied with Japan, Great Britain, and France while the USA has aligned with Germany.

Turtledove’s technique is to utilize multiple points of view with characters from vastly different walks of life. In this one, I counted nineteen such characters: nine Americans, eight Confederates, one Canadian, and one Mexican. Their paths rarely cross, and most are white males. For the USA, they range from an infantry private to a general. For the CSA, they include the commander of a concentration camp, the head of its spy service, and Jake Featherston its President. There are three women, one of whom is Jewish, and two blacks, who have the misfortune to live in the Confederacy. These women include a U.S. congresswoman and a Canadian woman living under U.S. occupation. Turtledove usually kills off one point of view character in each book and replaces them with a relative. Since it occurred in the first chapter, I’m not giving anything away by reporting that Anne Colleton dies in a bombing raid. She was a strong Southern woman in the tradition of Scarlett O’Hara, and Turtledove replaces her with her younger brother Tom, an officer in the Confederate army.

As the series has progressed, there have been fewer and fewer historical characters. This makes sense, because with the change in history, fewer and fewer of them would have been born or for some reason they did not achieve the prominence they did in our time line. In this installment, George Patton is the South’s leading general, Al Smith is President of the United States, Winston Churchill is the prime minister of Great Britain, and Franklin Roosevelt is the Assistant Secretary of War for the U.S. Louis Armstrong also makes a brief appearance when he leads his band across the front lines to refuge in the North.

Having lost two wars, the Republicans are a minority party in the U.S. Instead, the Socialist party provides the main opposition to the Democrats. Although Washington, D.C. is the official capital, it is too close to the border with the CSA to be safe, so the U.S. government actually resides in Philadelphia. In an obvious parallel with Nazi Germany, the CSA has developed into a dictatorship based on racism. Germany itself is still ruled by a Kaiser in this timeline. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s death in the previous book is one of the events that trigger a new World War.

I’m an enthusiastic fan of this series, so obviously I recommend it. My only reservation is that you must read the books in the proper order. Except for How Few Remain, they do not stand by themselves.


October 28, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink


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