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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In at the Death by Harry Turtledove

Settling Accounts: In at the Death by Harry Turtledove. New York: Del Ray Ballantine Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-345-49247-0

Is this the final chapter in Turtledove's massive alternative history series, in which the South won the Civil War? Turtledove has taken us through World War I, the interregnum, and now World War II, all fought out between the North and the South right here on the North American continent.

For a brief summary of the previous novels in this massive series, see my entry on American Empire: The Victorious Opposition, written back shortly after this blog began, in September, 2003. Then came the first three novels in the Settling Accounts subseries, Return Engagement, The Drive to the East, and The Grapple, followed, finally by this tome, In at the Death.

In this book, World War II comes to its inevitable bloody and horrific end. The very first atomic bomb is unleashed by the German Kaiser on the Russian Tsar.

But the Confederacy actually manages to let loose the first one American soil. Lacking the capability to transport it by bomber or rocket, they send a group of infiltrators, led by Clarence Potter, a character featured for many volumes now, who, having been educated up north, speaks like a regular Yankee. He and a bunch of similarly qualified men literally drive a US truck carrying the bomb right up to the outskirts of Philadelphia, the US capitol, where they leave it to explode via a timed release.

But it isn't long before the US replies, eventually dropping two atomic bombs on southern cities, one of them narrowly missing the fascist Confederate president, Jake Featherston. Featherston has kept his Negro elimination program going as long as possible, and the vast majority of southern blacks have been gassed. As the war begins to wind down, the north turns the southern state of Texas back into an independent Republic, and captures one of the major concentration camps located within its borders.

But the story doesn't end with the surrender. We go on to see the unceremonious death of Jake Featherston, the beginnings of the occupation of the south by the north; the trial of the death camp commander for crimes against humanity, and the gradual return to civilian life by various of the characters we've been following through the last several volumes.

The book ends quite unceremoniously, just sort of peters out, you might say. Which is why I can't help wonder if there will be more to come. On the other hand, it's not entirely clear just what Turtledove would use as his inspiration for future volumes. Since the north is occupying the south, there doesn't seem to be too much potential for a “cold war” played out between the two American sides. But I imagine Turtledove could find a way, should he choose to do so. I checked his “official” web site, but didn't learn anything there. So I guess only time will tell.

This book is definitely recommended for anyone following the series. Others will want to go back and start at the very beginning, It's quite an epic journey, but one worth taking, especially if you enjoy the author's style. This is not great literature, but the ideas plus the more than competent execution make it entertaining reading.

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