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    Review of IN AT THE DEATH by Harry Turtledove


    Del Rey, July 2007

    The south has shot its bolt and the Union now drives into southern territory--territory that hasn't seen a US flag for the eighty years that the south was independent after it's victorious conclusion to the American Civil War. Only the force of Confederate President Jake Featherstone's personality keeps the south in the war because defeat seems inevitable. It seems that way, at least, to those who aren't aware of the race for a 'uranium bomb.' The Union is aware of the Confederacy's atomic bomb ambitions, and continuously bombs the university where southern scientists work on the bomb. But Confederate scientists continue plugging away. Meanwhile, Confederate missiles rain down on Philadelphia and other Union cities.

    Across a number of series, author Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) creates a powerful vision of the what the world might look like after a southern victory in the American Civil War. The Confederacy, defeated but not eliminated during 'the Great War' has embarked on a genocidal policy toward its blacks (although slaves were officially freed, they remain non-citizens in the south). The world is a vastly different place. Allied with the Union, Germany and Austria-Hungary won the First World War and the Kaiser still reigns, as does the Sultan in Turkey. But hatred doesn't depend on nationality and the defeated nations from that war seek revenge--just as occured in our own history.

    Unlike the earlier novels in this series, where the battles closely paralleled Hitler's blitzkreig in Russia, the military action in IN AT THE KILL follows that of the Civil War in our history. The drive to Atlanta and then to the sea rips the heart out of the Confederacy and splits it in half while less talented generals continue to pound away at the Confederacy's armies in Northern Virginia. Of course, in this war, armor and air power play pivotal roles.

    Turtledove combines his narrative with a look at some questions that are frighteningly relevant in America today. Is the German genocide really the result of a unique combination of factors, or is it something that could be repeated in other nations, upon other oppressed groups? What responsibilities do people have to keep the peace, to prevent crimes against humanity, to act contrary to the laws of the nation in which they live? What can an occupying army do when the underlying population hates it and continues to attack its soldiers whenever they get the chance? The answers that Turtledove offers, disguised as stories, are not reassuring.

    Throughout his SETTLING ACCOUNTS mini-series, Turtledove uses multiple viewpoint characters to shine lights on different aspects of the conflict. Both northern and southern politicians, officers and enlisted men, play their parts and, for the most part, see themselves as the heroes of their own stories. Even Jake Featherstone, the Adolf Hitler analogue of this story, truly believes he is doing what his nation needs, and concentration camp manager Jeff Pinkard manages a pleasant home life and remains mystified by the earlier suicide of one of his guards.

    There were spots that could have been cut, occasional repetition, and you'll have to decide for yourself about some of Turtledove's references to literature, movies and movie stars from our world who weren't written or discovered in the world of SETTLING ACCOUNTS. Still IN AT THE DEATH is both a compelling story and a thoughtful look at some of the vital questions that warfare brings.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 9/06/07

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