19 July 2005

Settling Accounts: Drive to the East

Below is the next in an ongoing series of guest reviews of upcoming or recent books.

Settling Accounts: Drive to the East by Harry Turtledove
reviewed by Gerard Marzilli

Settling Accounts: Drive to the East is the second volume in Harry Turtledove's World War II quadrilogy set in an alternate universe in which the South won the Civil War. The book is an incredibly fast paced yarn that will leave readers gasping for breath -- and incensed because they will have to wait an entire year for the next installment.

Although Drive to the East is only the second volume of the Settling Accounts series, Turtledove has set up the characters and situations in several other works, including the 1997 novel How Few Remain and the Great War and American Empire series. For this reason, readers who are unfamiliar with the series should not begin with Drive to the East.

That being said, the book is a chilling and realistic jaunt through an alternate 1940s America containing death camps, daily suicide bombings, and a totalitarian government that rules over the states south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The fascist Confederate States of America (the "C.S.A.") is waging a war of revenge upon the U.S.A. in retaliation for the crushing defeat it suffered in the Great War. Although the outcome of the war remains in the balance, United States production capacity and weight of numbers are beginning to take a toll on the forces of the Confederate States.

Turtledove typically spends the first hundred pages of a novel reviewing and repeating the events of his previous novel. Many consider this to be his hallmark flaw. Thankfully, in this book, he keeps repetition to a minimum, allowing readers just enough information to recall what happened in the last volume. Also, unlike the other books in this series, Turtledove keeps to a minimum the civilian point-of-view characters, thus allowing the author to focus on the meat of the story - the war itself. This leaves room for plenty of exciting and harrowing battle sequences.

One flaw in the book is that for readers familiar with the history of the real World War II, the events may be somewhat predictable. Turtledove's model of the U.S.A./C.S.A conflict is lifted directly from the real life events of the Eastern Front battles between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. However, Turtledove is not primarily concerned with the events of the conflict between nations, but rather their effect on the individuals involved. From infantry men and tank drivers to sailors at sea, to the politicians behind the lines, Turtledove compels his readers care about all of his characters so much that we mourn their occasional loss and are kept biting our nails when some of their stories are left up in the air at the end of the novel.

Turtledove also appears to have another intent by transposing European history onto North America's: to show that Europe's horrors could very easily have been -- and may yet be -- our own.