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The Guns of the South: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 1993
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But the part I found fascinating was that the war was really only the first 1/3rd or half of the book. The rest of the book follows a couple of key people through the next couple of years and we see the effect of the south winning the war, and we find out why the people from the future took such an interest in the south winning.
Many other reviewers mention that the book gets bogged down around the halfway point, which is where the Second American Revolution ends and the CSA is officially established. Yes, there is next to no fighting and there is a lot of conversation, but the latter half of the book holds some gems that all readers would enjoy, especially history fans. The negotiations between the USA and CSA and Lee's presidential campaign are great.
The last 100 or so pages, however, really ups the ante, bringing back the bloodshed and the stakes of war. I don't want to spoil anything, but this climax is fantastic. To put vaguely, it is an epic war where the past and the future clash. It is engaging, heartbreaking, and suspenseful. To stop halfway and miss this great portion of historical fiction is a severe disservice.
That's about it. The writing is technically fine, but the plot consists of ...well, it's pretty much AK-47s all the way down. Not sure I'll finish the book unless something else happens, but if this were a drinking game where I had to do a drop of tequila every time AK-47s or Gettysburg were mentioned, I'd need a new liver by now, and I'm only 25% through.
For that reason, I was skeptical about purchasing this book. But when I read it for myself, I saw that it actually works. The reason why is Turtledove's attention to historical detail; particularly the personalities of the main characters. One particular scene stands out (minor spoiler alert): when Lee's AK-47-armed men capture Washington, D.C., he meets President Abraham Lincoln to discuss the terms for a ceasefire. The dialogue that ensues is totally believable: after the initial niceties, Lee's humble, patient firmness is able to wrestle a ceasefire and eventual surrender out of the lawyerly Lincoln. Had the South actually won, it is entirely likely that this is how Lee and Lincoln would have spoken to one another. In my opinion, this was the most amazing part of the book, and I was very impressed with it.
But this momentous scene takes place only halfway through the story. The rest involves Lee coming to terms with the reality that slavery will one day become an outdated institution, and the sooner the Confederate States of America (CSA) jettisons it, the better. Of course, not everyone sees it this way, including Nathan Bedford Forrest, who quickly becomes Lee's rival in the CSA's next presidential election. All the while, the white supremacist group from the future is scheming to keep slavery alive, by any means necessary.
In taking the story this way, Turtledove wants to show his readers that slavery was not the main issue that led to the Civil War; it was state's rights. Does he succeed? With some nuance, I believe he does. However, individual readers must answer this question for themselves.
My only hesitation in giving this novel 5 stars is the time travel element. Hence, I give it four stars. Nevertheless, The Guns of the South is an entertaining tale that attempts to answer one of history's ultimate "What if" questions. I highly recommend it for both Civil War buffs and readers of historical fiction.
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