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Through the Darkness
Harry Turtledove
Earthlight, 514 pages

Through the Darkness
Harry Turtledove
Harry Turtledove was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1949. In 1977, he received a Ph.D. in Byzantine history from UCLA. In 1979, he published his first two novels, Wereblood and Werenight, under the pseudonym Eric G. Iverson which he continued to use until 1985. In 1991, he left the Los Angeles County Office of Education, where he worked as a technical writer, to become a full-time author. He won the Hugo Award for Novella in 1994 for "Down in the Bottomlands" and "Must and Shall" was nominated for both the 1996 Hugo Award for Best Novelette and the 1996 Nebula Award for Best Novelette.

Harry Turtledove Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Center Cannot Hold
SF Site Review: Ruled Britannia
SF Site Review: Colonization: Aftershocks
SF Site Review: Walk in Hell
SF Site Review: Darkness Descending
SF Site Review: American Front
SF Site Review: Household Gods with Judith Tarr
SF Site Review: Colonization: Second Contact
SF Site Review: Into the Darkness
SF Site Review: How Few Remain
SF Site Review: How Few Remain
SF Site Review: Between the Rivers

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ian Nichols

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Harry Turtledove is best known for his World War series, which is based upon the "what if?" of an alien invasion during World War II. In this series, he demonstrates a vast knowledge and understanding of the history, strategy and tactics of modern warfare. Through the Darkness is the third book in another series but this one is fantasy, rather than science fiction.

This, too, is a novel of war, a vast war, fought on many fronts, but mainly in Unkerlant, an enormous continent of many different races. All the conventions of the fantasy novel are here; dragons and magic and strange and wonderful natural forces. The plot is enormously complex, and the back-story in the novel is really not quite sufficient to explain how it has all come about. The writing is as skilful and detailed as anything Turtledove has ever written, perhaps too detailed, because it is the very complexity and detail which are the major faults in the book.

To start, there is a list of one hundred and thirty-six characters, named and described, along with the now obligatory map, at the front of the book. Of these, sixteen, helpfully indicated by asterisks, are viewpoint characters. I mean no irony by this; when you plunge into the novel, this list and its asterisks are vital guides to forming any concept of what is going on. You really can't tell the players without a programme. The shifting viewpoint is a further element of confusion, as are the thirteen separate setting for the action. Mind you, Through the Darkness is not an economically written novel. Even though it's only just over 500 pages, there are well over 250,000 words here, which gives sufficient room for the story to sprawl all over the place, including the thirteen different settings.

What it seems that Turtledove has attempted to do is transfer the strategies and tactics of modern warfare to a fantasy novel. Thus, dragons are used in the same way as bombers and fighters, heavy artillery is magically-powered, and there are resistance fighters who wreck the railway lines that are used to transport troops, except they're not really railway lines, but lines of magical force, and the carriages are also magical. There are no guns, of course, in this atechnological age, but there are "sticks," which seem to do the same thing as guns. There are most of the trappings of World War II, just tarted up and given a coat of fantasy paint. The invasion of Unkerlant seems strikingly similar to Hitler's invasion of Russia, and the blood sacrifice of subject races in concentration camps also has a familiar ring to it.

It doesn't seem to work. While reading, I expected Guderian or Rommel to emerge from cover with battalion of panzers at any second, and the skies above to be filled with duelling FW 190's and Hurricanes. There are just too many resonances of WW II, and they constantly intrude. The plots and sub-plots demand all of a reader's attention, and interference from memories of Biggles and episodes of Combat detract from these. The personal stories, and with 136 named characters there are plenty of these, get lost in the vast sweep of events, which deprives the novel of that element of humanity which it so desperately needs. Instead, there are battles and intrigues seemingly without end, and you arrive at the conclusion of the novel with a sense of relief, rather than of satisfaction.

I admire Turtledove's narrative skill, but I wonder why he chose to write a fantasy novel about World War II, when he's already written such fine science fiction novels about it.

Copyright © 2003 Ian Nichols

Ian Nichols is studying for his Masters degree at the University of Western Australia, and is fortunate enough to be studying in the area he most enjoys; Fantasy and Science Fiction.


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