Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Despite the title, Darkness Descending, the second novel in Harry Turtledoves massive Derlavai saga, is far less pessimistic in tone than the introductory volume, Into the Darkness. Although the wars effects continue to be felt across the continent of Derlavai, and beyond, the actual battle sequences are generally limited to the Algarvian invasion of Unkerlant, told through only a few viewpoint characters. The majority of characters are far removed from the front and are shown learning to either deal with the territorial occupation of the Algarvians or attempting to harass the invaders.
By steering away from the actual combat zones, Turtledove is able to give a greater strategic understanding of the situation in Derlavai, allowing the reader a greater context in which to place the battles and politics. However, he also provides a deeper understanding of the social structure of this world which so closely resembles our own. The Kaunians, descendants of an ancient empire, are hated by the newer Algarvian nations. While they seem mostly to represent the European Jews of the Second World War, they can just as easily represent the Kosovars, East Timorese, or myriad other oppressed groups.
In the past, Turtledove has demonstrated a willingness to kill off viewpoint characters. The situations which arise in Darkness Descending, along with the number of viewpoints presented, assure the reader that none of the characters are safe, and the reader can easily foresee certain characters, such as the Kaunians Brivibas and his granddaughter Vanai, running afoul of the Algarvians. The fact that Turtledove is willing to kill of characters provides a tension throughout the novel which is a welcome change from novels where the only question is how the characters will survive, rather than whether they will.
A variety of subplots which were introduced in the first novel, such as the theoretical sorcery research performed by Pekka, are allowed to continue in the second novel, actually begin to move forward. In Darkness Descending, these storylines are numerous enough that they manage to wrest the narrative away from the tactical look at the war on Derlavai. This is a welcome change from the detailed depictions of battle which have a tendency to run together.
Turtledove has built a complex and interesting world in the Derlavai series. With the second novel, the world is beginning to live up to its potential as Turtledove has begun to leave the constant warfare behind. While the new book is not as self-contained ast Into the Darkness was, it leaves the reader wondering what will happen to the various characters and looking forward to the third book in the series.
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