Fiction Reviews

Settling Accounts: Drive To The East

(2005) Harry Turtledove, Hodder & Stoughton, 18.99, hrdbk, 594 pp, ISBN 0-340-82687-0


What can I say about Harry Turtledove ? For starters, this being the fifth Turtledove novel that I've thoroughly enjoyed, I'd say the bloke's a genius. Then again, I guess I'm speaking from a slightly biased point of view. Judging from the amount of alternative history and out & out science fiction that he has published, I reckon the poor chap is permanently tired and rather slim. He must spend all his time writing, leaving little time for eating, sleeping et cetera.

This book is the latest in a long line that began with the 'Great War' series which was followed by the 'American Empire' trilogy, which is where I first became hooked. So this is the second book in the 'Settling Accounts' sequence.

At this point, before you read any further, I feel duty bound to inform you that this book is NOT what I would call science fiction - and as this is a science fact and fiction web site I feel you should be told that it is more from the genre's periphery.

I was always told that "history" is one of the arts, so, therefore, this ingenious rewriting of the past should maybe be entitled Art Fiction! Whatever it is, it's a most extraordinary reworking of actual historical events. The basic premise that this whole series of books is based on is that the southern (Confederate) states of America won the American civil war, herein referred to as the War of Secession.

As for the story... After various other skirmishes in the latter stages of the 19th century came the Great War, which the USA won. They went on to cede several parts of the old CSA, including Kentucky and west Texas (known to the USA as Houston) to themselves, just as parts of Germany were ceded from them after their defeat in Europe in 1918.This is one of several similarities between Turtledove's world and reality.

Germany after WWI saw the rise (as we know only too well) of the Nazi's and Adolf Hitler. In Turtledove's world we have the Freedom Party and Jake Featherston. Instead of Jews as scapegoats, substitute the horrifyingly all too conspicuous former slaves and sharecroppers. For the battle of Stalingrad in 1942 substitute Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania... And so on and so forth.

But it's not quite as simple as all that!

What Harry Turtledove seems to be able to do so well is to make it all so believable, as any good author should, of course, and not just a slight reworking of actual events. One finds oneself caught up in the lives of dozens of vastly different characters.

There's the Canadian freedom fighter / terrorist attempting to rid her homeland of the occupying USA forces. An American (as opposed to Confederate) lawyer who married the widow of a former Canadian war hero and re-enters the affray after his wife and daughter are blown to bits by the afore-mentioned freedom fighter / terrorist. He had, somewhat ironically been defending Canadians accused of treason by the occupying USA forces.

There is the former slave who escapes to the USA and makes a new life in Iowa. Of course, there's also Jake Featherston himself, who rises from a lowly artillery gunner during the Great War to become the leader of the Freedom Party and then the warmongering President of the CSA. Harry Turtledove does not dwell on whether or not he likes to dabble with water colours, oils or any other media for that matter.

Despite this the style of the narrative is fast flowing and easy to read whilst keeping you on the edge of your seat. The author assumes the reader is knowledgeable of events in European and American history, and that we know where he is changing those real events. And why should he care, because he probably knows full well that a vast majority of us reading this exceptional book are simply enjoying being entertained by it. Also, this is another weighty tome, stretching (although it does not feel like that) to almost 600 pages. Plenty to get one's teeth into.

I thoroughly recommend this novel. ENJOY!

Mark Cowling

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