IN HIGH PLACES
by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The third of Harry Turtledove's "Crosstime Traffic" novels, In High Places, may have the most interesting alternative world of the series so far. While Gunpowder Empire dealt with a Rome that never fell and Curious Notions was set in a world in which the Kaiser was victorious in World War I, In High Places postulates a world in which the Black Death was more virulent and a new Christian prophet, Henri, the second son, arose in France.
As with the prior novels, In High Places focuses on a teenager, in this case Annette Klein. In the guise of Khadija, she appears as the daughter of a Muslim merchant from Marseilles who has been visiting the Christian kingdom of Versailles. Unfortunately for Annette and her family, the Versaillan duke Raoul noticed something strange about them and put his retainer, Jacques, on their trail to discover what their secret was.
The journey to Marseilles isn't exactly what any of them expected and Annette and Jacques find themselves separated from the rest of the caravan and sold into slavery in Madrid. It is this point when Turtledove's story really takes off and Turtledove does an excellent depiction of slavery in this world. While the term may call up images of Antebellum South, Turtledove's slavery is seen as more matter of fact by most of his characters, slaves and masters alike, without the cruelty. Turtledove makes the point that slavery is an important part of any pre-industrial society. Despite this, and the other slaves taking their slavery for granted, if not grudgingly, slavery, and being a slave, is anathema to Annette.
Turtledove also spends more time with his presentation of the "home" timeline, where Crosstime Traffic is located. While he focuses on Crosstime Traffic, the organization which sends people to other timelines to trade with the locals, from comments and thoughts Annette has throughout the book, a better picture of her own world emerges.
In High Places, as with the other Crosstime Traffic novels, is aimed at young adults, and to broaden its appeal, as with the earlier three books, the story is told from the points of view of two characters, a male and a female. While Annette is a protagonist whose thoughts and actions are more in tune with modern sensibilities, Jacques, presents a more alien look at the world as he understands his own timeline and sees the "home" timeline as a world of strangeness.
As the world of Crosstime Traffic becomes more fleshed out with each succeeding novel, the series also becomes stronger. Turtledove can play with alternate histories which may not be strong enough to carry a series. By including teenage characters like Annette and Jacques, he can look at the world, whether an alternate timeline or the "home" world, through more naive eyes and have his characters make some basic mistakes.
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