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In at the Death (Settling Accounts, Book 4) Hardcover – July 31, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Alternate history master Turtledove brings his 10-book saga of a Confederate Civil War victory to a satisfying if predictable conclusion. Outfought by the United States and their German allies (as anticipated in 2006's Settling Accounts: The Grapple), the Confederates finally surrender, ending WWII. Now the Southern states must be brought back into the Union after four wars and 80 years of independence. The victorious Northern forces wage a brutal occupation, ruthlessly retaliating against the local population for ambushes and car bombs. While the Union joyously punishes the persecutors of those Negro residents of the Confederacy who survived the Freedom Party's genocide campaign, it fails to remedy its treatment of its own black citizens. With Canada and the secessionist Mormon territories remaining under martial law, some readers may wish that Turtledove follows this time line into uncharted territory in yet another sequel. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Here ends (probably) alternate history's closest rival10 volumes and a prequelto Robert Jordan's plethoric fantasy, the 11-volume Wheel of Time. The Confederacy crumbles in ruins, as Jake Featherstone meets the end he richly deserves. Generals Dowling and Morrell end with the high rank and position their efforts deserve, while Michael Pound recovers from burns received in a well-drawn tank battle, and Chester Martin ends his second war successfully, having kept his platoon commander from killing the whole platoon. On the other hand, the saga's four-contestant nuclear race leaves four nuclear powers still standing at war's end, and both soldiers and civilians contemplating the spectacle with crossed fingers. Moreover, race relations in the defunct Confederacy are horrible, entailing the murder of at least six million "colored," a genocide that dwarfs this-world Bosnia and Rwanda combined. Meanwhile, Clarence Potter, Cincinnatus Driver, and Flora Blackford will be working to heal the malignant scars in Turtledove's parallel continuum, so who can say how the U.S. might emerge? Perhaps into a three-cornered cold war (U.S., Germany, Japan)if and when Turtledove obliges reader curiosity A conclusion worthy of a nonpareil saga. Green, Roland
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Harry's mission was simple: What would North America be like if the South had won the Civil War? I think his broad strokes are far and away the best part of of his narrative. I enjoyed how he paired up the North with Germany and Austria/Hungary, even as the junior partner to Germany in WWI and even a bit in WWII. It was nice too that he kept things specifically in our hemisphere, and didn't diverge with details of the European campaigns, the snapshots he gave of the action there was quite enough. The development of the atomic bomb was really well done, though I won't spoil any of the details here.
The characters? A mixed bag. A few of them lasted through the last 10 books, including Northern military men Irving Morrell (the hero of the series, if there was one), Sam Carsten, and Jonathan Moss, and Southern soldier/demagogue/leader Jake Featherston. Also lasting the series was Cincinnatus Driver, a black Kentuckian turned Iowan, as well as Jefferson Pinkard, steel worker turned Holocaust commandant. George Enos Jr. and Clarence Potter graduated from recurring characters in the first few books, to main characters in the later ones, Potter wound up being my favorite of the characters. Flora Hamburger Blackford was one of the few women profiled, the only one to last the final 10 books, and I liked how she evolved over time.
That was a problem though, few characters evolved, even the ones who we got to know for 10 books. Particularly irksome were earlier book characters like Nellie Semphroch Jacobs, who hated men with a passion, and never allowed her inner monologue to let us forget it. The MacGregors in Manitoba were also one note, yes, they hated America, but I got tired of reading it after awhile. Sam Carsten was a good guy, but he was a bit too much 'aw shucks' at times.
Jake Featherston was one note too, but I didn't mind him so much, as he was clearly Adolph Hitler. I've read reviews on here of Southerners taking Harry to task for this, and for making the Confederates out to be Nazis, but it was all too plausible. Yes, the Civil War as it actually was had many underlying causes, but I think the apologists are reaching a bit when they complain about the treatment of it here. The death camps were done in a way that wasn't too macabre, but still showed the inhumanity of the entire thing. He even included Sonderkommandos (prisoners helping the process, hoping to postpone their own deaths), though he didn't dwell on them.
Does In at the Death suffice as a fitting conclusion? Yes, I think it does. He wraps up many of the storylines well enough, while leaving some of them open if he decides to do another series. I won't say who won, and who else died, though the earlier books did surprise me more than a few times with who they lopped off.
Was this series perfect? Of course not, and while I own well over a dozen of Harry's books, I have to wonder if his publishing pace is a bit too fast for quality sometimes. But when I buy his stuff, I'm almost guaranteed to at least like it. The overall narrative is more than enough to compensate for some rote characters, and it's an interesting way to look at history. Four stars.
To appreciate the power of this novel, one should read the three novels preceding it. Only then, does one understand the behaviors of the characters and the accuracy and nuances of Turtledove's plot.
While this novel is entertaining as alternative history, I found its hidden value in its exploration of racism, anti-semitism, regionalism, nationalism, bias, and within group differences. Turtledove's portrayal of the long term effects of slavery on all groups is blunt and raw. He pulls no punches. While he is certainly not Hemingway, his dialogue creates a vision that makes you think, groan, and wonder.
You must have some knowledge of American history from the Civil War through the end of WWII to experience the full thematic impact of this novel. Much of Turtledove's effct occurs when he slighltly bends or warps an historically recognizable figure into a character to fit the dramatic action and theme.
I've read all of Turtledove's books in this timeline starting with the independence of the CSA in 1862. Rather than give away any of the plot I'll say what I like and dislike:
The characters are wonderfully done. There is the vivid portrayal of Jake Featherston, the vengeance-obsessed CSA President who leads his nation into a suicidal war with the USA and commits genocide against the Negro race because of a slight he suffered from a Negro 30 years before. Then there is the USA Congresswoman Flora Blackford, who matures from an idealistic Socialist into a hard-headed pragmatist. And there are the dozens of characters caught in the frontlines of a war as soldiers, medics, and quartermasters. Turtledove develops these characters into people who let you see the alternative history events in their eyes.
Turtledove's story telling is fast paced and makes the book difficult to put down. You can guess which side will probably win from the beginning, but there are enough surprises along the way to make the outcome in doubt until near the end.
The only complaints I have with Harry's books is that the alternative history is not always credible. For example, four major powers simultaneously develop the atomic bomb in 1944. This would have been impossible for any number of reasons. The Confederate States in particular did not possess Uranium as a raw material or to the technical resources needed to transmute it into the plutonium implosion device as described in the book. It would have been more plausible for the CSA to devote its limited resources to attacking the USA with bioweapons like anthrax bombs, which were doable for a country with limited resources in 1944. Turtledove would have made the story more believable by going along these lines.
One other AH point that has bothered me is how the CSA, with a population of 20 million, could attain enough qualitative superiority in military equipment to take on the USA, with a population of 150 million. How did Featherston work his implied miracles of space-age military production in his small and technology challenged nation? That would have been a story at least as interesting as the war itself.
The aftermath of the war leaves a lot of loose ends to be tied up. Will Turtledove start a new series to continue this timeline past 1945. Is this REALLY the end of the USA/CSA conflict?