AMERICAN EMPIRE: THE VICTORIOUS OPPOSITION
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Harry Turtledove continues to chronicle the post-war history of the United States and the Confederate States in American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold. As with the earlier books in the series, this one follows the stories of numerous viewpoint characters ranging from the Canadian guerilla wannabe Mary McGregor to the Confederate President wannabe Jake Featherston. While earlier books have examined periods of months, The Center Cannot Hold begins in 1924 and runs through the beginning of 1933.
One of the things which sets The Victorious Opposition apart from the earlier books is the study of how even honest men opposed to an evil régime can be co-opted by it. While the fate of men like Jefferson Pinkard may be foreseen, the actions of Hipolito Rodriguez, Clarence Potter, or Willie King may come as a surprise. Turtledove has needed to build their characters over the preceding novels in order to make their actions most understandable.
In addition to the question of evil in the Confederacy, Turtledove also spends quite a bit of time with his characters in the United States Quebec and Occupied Canada. Using a variety of characters, Turtledove skillfully demonstrates the differences between society in our 1930s and the world of the American Empire. Chester Martin, now working as a contractor in Los Angeles, has again begun to see the class differences between himself as a worker and the owners, represented in this case by Mordechai Brown.
Several of Turtledove’s characters, who have been familiar since The Great War: American Front, are getting older and some of them die, of either natural or manmade causes. However, just as Turtledove replaced the characters who died during the war, he is set to replace these deceased characters with others, whether their children or their comrades.
Being the third book in the “American Empire” trilogy, it is understandable that The Victorious Opposition doesn’t have a real beginning, growing out of The Center Cannot Hold. However, it also fails to have an ending, setting the stage for Turtledove’s forthcoming trilogy which will document this time line as it descends into another Great War. Not only has Turtledove left the macroplots unfinished, but several of the individual stories are only showing signs of problems to come, notably the fates of Cincinnatus Driver and Xerxes/Scipio.
Turtledove continues to parallel the rise of the Third Reich with Jake Featherston’s Confederacy, although there are some aspects which differ. Turtledove’s United States do not mirror directly to any of the European nations, and, of course, there are vastly different alliances in his world and ours. Turtledove handles both the differences and the similarities masterfully, and introduces enough changes to the similarities to keep the reader on his toes.
In many ways, the lengthy series (seven books and counting) has finally come into its own in The Victorious Opposition, with long festering plotlines moving into a period of payoff and characters beginning to react to new stimuli based on their backgrounds. Because of this, the reader finds himself looking forward to these characters futures more than at the end of previous books in the series.
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