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Good Alternate History
on October 9, 2005
When reading Fox on the Rhine I found myself comparing it to Harry Turtledove's World War I/II series. I recently read and reviewed Turtledove's latest, Drive to the East, so it was fresh in my mind. Fox on the Rhine provides the level of detail that Turtledove's series lacks. From details of individual tactical engagements to analyses of the strategic alignments, the author gives the reader a full view of the situation. The book opens when one man's tiny change from actual history results in a successful July 20, 1944 assassination of Hitler. Whether the resulting scenarios are really plausible is beside the point because the authors made them seem credible. The authors do produce an interesting alternate history tale while letting the reader in on more than broad generalizations of what is going on at the front. A few more maps would have been helpful though.
Although Fox on the Rhine portrays the Germans on the move with a second chance, they are not glorified. The authors go a bit far in deifying Rommel, but most of the German leaders and the SS are nasty and evil as ever. A surprising feature of the book is the portrayal of the American army sweeping across France and then in counterattack mode. The Americans have practically equal billing in this book and are definitely the good guys. Readers considering Fox on the Rhine do not have to be concerned they are buying a Neo Nazi or at least sympathetic tome.
So far, I am describing a book that will appeal to both Alternate and Military history buffs. However, there are also key aspects in a book such as character development and plot lines. In this area, Fox on the Rhine is mediocre at best and Turtledoves comes out way ahead. The characters are ciphers attached to historical stereotypes. In fact, a significant part of the book is devoted to worthless letters from an American bomber gunner to his mother. Letters from a tanker would have been much more interesting and fitting. The descriptions of the military campaigns in Fox on the Rhine are informative and interesting, but without characters to really care about, it falls flat. For the right audience, Fox on the Rhine is well worth the time, but when considering everything that comprises a good book, it is little more than ordinary.