Reviewed by Steven H Silver
After taking it on the chin through Return Engagement and Drive to the East, the United States is finally able to get back some of its own in Settling Accounts: The Grapple, the third and penultimate volume in the Settling Accounts series. This rethinking of World War II follows on Harry Turtledove's lengthy re-envisioning of American history from 1862 in How Few Remain, The Great War, and American Empire series.
The main thrust of this novel follow the United States Army, led by General Irving Morrell, as it first tries to push the Confederate forces out of Ohio and then down through Kentucky, Tennessee, and into Georgia. Other story lines follow the conflict between Jefferson Pinkard, trying to murder negroes at Camp Determination in West Texas while the US under Abner Dowling is trying to capture the camp to use as a propaganda tool. In Washington and Richmond, Flora Hamburger Blackwood and Jake Featherston continue to provide behind the scenes insight into their respective governments.
In fact, Turtledove's cast of characters has grown so vast, a scorecard is needed at times. The theaters of activity have continued to grow and change. Turtledove often kills off one character in order to replace them with a related character, either in the same area, or related in some fashion. As in the previous novels, several of Turtledove's viewpoint characters do not manage to make it to the end of The Grapple.
While in previous novels in the series, the characters have focused their attention on the here and now, in The Grapple, more and more of the characters are beginning to wonder about the world they will live in after the war. This may be an indication that the war itself will end early in In at the Death, although the action at the end of The Grapple seems to indicate otherwise.
Given how much of the novel is spent looking at the tactical aspects of the war, Turtledove also manages to show a significant amount of the world outside the war: Major Leonard O'Doull visits his home in Rivière-du-Loup for his son's wedding, George Enos, Jr. manages to get leave long enough to visit his wife in Boston, and the citizens of Snyder, Texas come face to face with the atrocities of Camp Determination. These moments are welcome as they show the way the war reaches those who aren't actively taking part in it, although more civilian point of view characters would have been welcome.
There is an excitement about The Grapple as the novel and the series builds towards a crescendo. The war has reached a strange point where it appears the outcome is inevitable, but the Confederacy's Jake Featherston, as well as author Harry Turtledove, both appear to have surprises in store for the reader. While some of Turtledove's subplots naturally come to conclusions in The Grapple, others are continued or even ignored throughout the novel. Turtledove provides reminders of all these subplots, even when they don't appear to be moving forward, and he introduces new plots as well.
While Turtledove appears to be promising an end to the war in the next installment, it would be nice to know that the series will tackle the more difficult issues of what happens after the war when the US and the Confederacy must live side by side in peace, or the US must rule over the Confederacy as an occupied territory. Turtledove provides a hint of this with US President Charles La Follette's desire to see states readmitted to the US as they are captured from the Confederacy, but it is clear that such a plan has its own inherent dangers.
The Grapple is one of the strongest books in the extended series Turtledove began with How Few Remain. Many of the characters and situations he introduced throughout the previous nine novels are finally coming to fruition and paying the reader back for the time spent moving through the world of the Confederacy and the strange US which isn't our.
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