RULERS OF THE DARKNESS
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Harry Turtledove continues his multi-viewpoint world-spanning fantasy analog to World War II with Rulers of the Darkness. This fourth volume drives home the difference between the macrostory of the world at war and the various microstories of the individuals whose lives are controlled by the larger events. Even as the international events unfold in one direction, personal stories have a tendency to go opposite the way a character's country's fate goes.
Rulers of the Darkness continues to portray characters from almost all of the countries in his world and from positions ranging from partisans to generals, soldiers to civilians. Although the shear number of characters sometimes makes the stories difficult to follow, the tapestry Turtledove is weaving is made richer by the juxtaposition of multiple plots and viewpoints which help shed light on a variety of storylines. While the interweaving of plots and characters may, at times, seem unlikely, late in the novel, Turtledove addresses this very point in a way which is reminiscent of the idea that in the real world everyone is connected within six degrees.
Another aspect of the novel which is heavily influenced by the number of viewpoint characters and their storylines is the pacing of the plot. Turtledove appears to take a long time to advance any of the stories. However, if a reader were to only read the sections of the novel which deal with a specific plot, for instance the attempts of the Kuusamans and Lagoans to create a new form a magic, the specific plots move quickly. However, as already noted, by breaking them up and looking at a variety of plots, Turtledove is able to make his created war much richer.
The war which has consumed Derlavai and the surrounding islands is clearly an analog for our own world's World War II. Frequently countries and situations, if not characters, can be linked to their real world models. However, the pairing is not exact. Although the Kaunians seem to clearly represent the Jews, their previous empire and the fact they they still have their own countries also make them akin to the Ancient Romans. The Gyongyosians are based on the Japanese, although their role in the war seems slighter than in the real World War II. This may, however, simply be a result of Turtledove's authorial decision of which areas to cover.
While the comparison between the world of Derlavai and the real world is obvious, there are points where the dichotomy between the fantasy world Turtledove is presenting and twentieth century civilization is made obvious. At times like this, the reader is jarred out of Turtledove's world as the common tropes of a fantasy world compete with the recent past of our own more mundane world.
In the end, it isn't the world wide situation of the novel which holds the reader's attention. Instead it is the personal stories of the characters Turtledove has created. Fortunately, he has populated Derlavai with real people who find themselves in difficult situations. Some of them behave heroically, such as Cornelu, the Sibian leviathan rider who has been pulled from his homeland, but still fights against what he sees as the forces of evil. Fernao finds himself working with his country's traditional rivals to develop magic and he finds himself fighting his own desires for his married colleague, Pekka. Other characters simply try to live their lives apart from the war around them. The love story of Ealstan and Vanai, who must hide Vanai's Kaunian identity so she isn't arrested by the Algarvians, or Istvan, who every day lives his life as a soldier, afraid that his shame is never revealed to his comrades. Other characters are not as heroic. Various characters from lands which have been invaded who are working with the invaders in order to make their own lives more bearable. With such a large cast (there are seventeen viewpoint characters), each reader will be able to find some characters he can relate to.
In the end, Rulers of the Darkness, the fourth novel in the ongoing series, is bittersweet. Even as advances are made on the front against Algarve, which country Turtledove has portrayed in the most consistently negative terms, characters the reader has come to like face difficult trials and tribulations. In past books, Turtledove has shown no compunction about killing viewpoint characters, and he continues to kill them in Rulers of the Darkness. This is refreshing since the reader can never be sure who shall live and who shall die, making the book that much more realistic.
The war which began in Into the Darkness continues to rage, but in Rulers of the Darkness, Turtledove shows is progressing to a new stage, possibly signaling an endgame. His characters are also moving along in their personal relationships and desires, some receiving their comeuppance, others finding themselves in a losing situation. The emotions which a reader feels when characters' fates are revealed is a testament to the veracity with which Turtledove endows these people.
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