SETTLING ACCOUNTS: DRIVE TO THE EAST
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The second book of Harry Turtledove's "Settling Accounts" series, Drive to the East continues to relate the wartime experiences of his United States and Confederate States eighty years after the two countries split and chronicles through How Few Remain, "The Great War" series and "The American Empire Series." Most of the characters from the earlier works carry over, although as often happens in these books, not all of those characters will survive to the end.
The macrosituation of the book relates the Confederates' push from Toledo eastward through Ohio and then into Pennsylvania. Of course, the United States forces do everything within their power to halt the advance. The action ranges from Daniel MacArthur's push in Virginia to the Mormon Uprising in Utah. In Canada, Turtledove continues to show Mary Pomeroy's single-handed attacks on US forces. In Texas, Hipolito Rodriguez is reunited with Jefferson Pinkard at Camp Determination. Other major characters' stories are also, of course, detailed.
While much of the story told in the series is a mirror to the events of World War II in our own Europe, there are differences, beginning on the first page with the aftermath of the death of the US President, Al Smith, but not just there. Other similarities are more direct, such as the events at Camp Determination. At times, one of the direct analogs appears to be the sections dealing with downed US pilot Jonathan Moss, spending the war in a Confederate POW Camp. However, Turtledove manages to successfully avoid recreating either "The Great Escape" or "Stalag 17," giving that section a pleasant twist.
With Drive to the East being the ninth book in the overall series that began with How Few Remain, even if the characters in this book only began to be introduced in The Great War: American Front, Turtledove knows most of his characters as well as he could be expected to know any of his close friends, and his knowledge of them shows. Readers who have stuck with the series can guess what a character's reaction will be to an event, but Turtledove still manages plot twists and character growth which will surprise readers.
Unfortunately, Drive to the East is very much a middle book in a series. Many of the character's stories simply do not reach any satisfying stopping point when the book comes to an end. The story of Scipio/Xerxes, the major domo turned waiter, is left completely mid-stream as is the aforementioned Moss's story. Other storylines come to very complete ends with the deaths of the characters, a situation which will apparently allow Turtledove to focus more closely on other areas in the next book, since in this case these dead characters often don't have other characters nearby to take up their stories.
No reader should begin reading this series with Drive to the East, although it is possible (but not recommended) to begin with its predecessor, Settling Accounts: Return Engagement. As a continuation of the portion of the story begun in that installment, however, Drive to the East is a worthy sequel, not completely satisfying only because it was clearly envisioned as the middle book of the trilogy with events to come to a head in a subsequent book.
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