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Settling Accounts: In at the Death, by Harry Turtledove Book Review | SFReader.com
Settling Accounts: In at the Death, by Harry Turtledove Genre: Alternate History Publisher: Random House Published: 2008 Review Posted: 7/30/2008 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
Settling Accounts: In at the Death, by Harry Turtledove
Book Review by Steve Davidson
Have you read this book?
Harry Turtledove has been at the science fiction game for quite a while, having published his first novel in 1979. He's a Hugo winner and multiple award nominee. I first read him in '88, and wasn't too keen on his short stories, which was unfortunate, as I arrived late to the party and have had a lot of catching up to do. When Harry took up his 'alternative history' pen, he found his stride. As has been acknowledged on the covers of many of his books, he quickly became known as "The Master of Alternative History," and one of my favorites.
Starting with "How Few Remain," Turtledove has taken his readers through eleven (!) novels detailing an alternate history in which the Confederate states won the civil war, starting with the War Between the States in the 1860s and progressing to almost the present day, covering the establishment of the Confederacy as a rival to the USA on the north American continent, through a second war between the CSA and the USA, the First World War and the Second World War.
Turtledove has pretty much charted out an alternative 'American Century', so richly detailed and wide-ranging that if you changed the covers and snuck them into a high school history class, they'd be every bit as teachable as many straight history texts.
That's not to imply that the stories are dry re-counting of dates and happenings -- far from it. They're chockfull of deeply interesting characters, complicated relationships, political intrigue, raw emotion, plausible but different (often very different) historical events and, perhaps something that Turtledove excels at above all else, rip-roaring battle scenes involving characters you care about, often getting ripped to shreds. Turtledove plays around with so many characters, he doesn't have any trouble killing them off, which, rather than disappointing, simply makes the stories that much more believable. People really do die at inconvenient times.
Settling Accounts: In at the Death is the eleventh title overall and the fourth and final novel in the Settling Accounts series, which chronicles the history of the fourth war between the Confederacy, led by the Hitleresque Jake Featherstone, President of the CSA, and the United States, against the backdrop of a European World War Two between Germany (The USA's ally) and a British-French-Imperial Russian alliance that is backing the CSA.
The CSA under Jake Featherstone's leadership has re-tooled, re-armed, seized lands through political maneuverings and has started a war to take revenge for the self-perceived injustices imposed upon it by the United States. Ominously, it has also begun to engage in genocide against the Negro inhabitants of the country.
Despite the fact that the CSA is an obvious analog of our own historical Nazi Germany and many of the twists and turns in the story are direct transplantations of "real" historical events, there is no sense of familiarity or lack of originality; Turtledove does an effective job of entertaining us with believable alternatives. The reader's own knowledge and familiarity with actual history becomes the very sauce that lends credence to the tale.
In at the Death is the final chapter for Featherstone, complete with a desperate reliance on the development of super-weapons and not one, not two, not three but four different 'Manhattan Projects' that seriously ups the ante towards the end of the book. Turtledove never uses the phrase 'nuclear brinkmanship' during the story, but his characters could use it.
In at the Death is an obvious must-read for those who have been following the series; it can be read as a stand-alone, but just barely (you'll be asking questions -- but none are show-stoppers). It's also recommended for alternative history buffs and those into military science fiction. It is strongly recommended that you at least start at the beginning of the "Settling Accounts" tetralogy.
Turtledove winds up most of the loose ends in this story, but leaves more than enough open to continue with another cycle.
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