by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Harry Turtledove continues to play with the history of World War II in the latest volume of his “The War That Came Early” series. The intriguingly titled Coup d’Etat could refer to an action just about anywhere and given how much the politics of this timeline have diverged, with the British and French joining forces with the Germans against the Soviets, and Turtledove takes his time identifying which country undergoes the revolution, as well as the possibility of a domino effect as the coup’s results spread across the war-torn world.
War, of course, is the primary activity of the novel and Turtledove continues to give short exposure to a variety of different theatres and mindsets, lacking only a character in a high enough position to provide a thorough strategic overview of the men slogging across Europe, Asia, and the Pacific rim. Many times, these characters and their ordeals are interchangeable, and, occasionally, tedious, reflecting the period in war between the battles. These characters’ have definers which set them apart from their comrades, the marine who dated the taxi dancer, the German soldier sleeping with the Jewish waitress, the Czech armed with an anti-tank sniper rifle. It is the fact that Turtledove has created them as individuals that makes their stories worth paying attention to among the military movements.
While most of the novel follows the military exploits of men across the world, the most evocative moments tend to be those which look at relationships. Peggy Druce and her husband learning how to be a married couple in a Philadelphia an ocean away from the war which kept them apart in earlier books, Sarah Goldman discovering the possibility of loving in a Münster in which Jews are denied all semblance of human rights, or even Chaim Weinberg’s sham of a relationship with La Martellita in Spain form the emotional crux of the novel.
Turtledove is also willing to kill off his characters, which not only provides tension to the narrative, but also helps create the emotional impact. With his vast casts of characters, some will always resonate more for any given reader than others, but when they die, especially when multiple characters die, it increases the stakes, especially when the deaths can appear completely random in nature.
Coup d’Etat is very definitely a middle book in a series. All of the characters have seemingly been introduced and the reader is dropped into the middle of the action. Turtledove, as always, provides reminders of previous activity and then moves through his kaleidoscopic view of this alternative World War. Because of the length and complexity of the novel, not every story comes with a payoff within the confines of the covers, but there will be subsequent books in which Turtledove can reveal what he, and the fates, have in store for his characters. Coup d’Etat continues to build on the change Turtledove introduced in The Big Switch and promises more changes will come in future volumes.
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