Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Settling Accounts: In at the Death is the last scheduled novel in Harry Turtledove's massive series following the relations between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America after the South won its independence in 1862. Beginning with How Few Remain, Turtledove has chronicles more than sixty years of activity, with the current book covering the final years of the second Great War, 1944-1945.
It became quite clear during the course of the previous novel, The Grapple, that the United States would finally achieve a victory over the Confederacy, although how that victory would be achieved was left up in the air. Furthermore, with the two countries racing to develop nuclear weapons, the Confederacy could still pull off a coup if their research paid dividends before the US research did. When Turtledove does begin to have his characters use nuclear weapons, he does so in surprising ways.
The majority of the novel is focused on the closing months of the war, but Turtledove spends a considerable amount of time dealing with the aftermath, as some characters are released from the military and others find an unexpected future waiting for them. In some cases, Turtledove seems to be tying together loose ends he has left in the series, perhaps most notably when Cincinnatus Driver visits Covington or Flora Blackford discusses politics with her Democratic brother, David.
Perhaps most poignant is the fate that awaits Jefferson Pinkard, the commandant of the camps the Confederacy used to exterminate the Confederate Black population. While Pinkard was a reasonably likable character when he was first introduced in The Great War: American Front, by In at the Death, he may be the most changed character in the series. While he is clearly representative of the men and monsters who were tried at Nuremberg, the comparison between his character when doing duty at the Sloss Steel Works and his fate in In at the Death almost makes him a tragic figure.
Very little of the home front is shown during the final stages of the war, with the exception of a brief scene of George Enos, Jr. visiting his wife on leave. Otherwise, In at the Death has a dearth of civilian characters, and the ones it does have are either combatants, such as Gracchus' guerillas in Georgia, or attached to the military, such as Cincinnatus. This focus on the war, however, does give the sense of the war building to a crescendo.
This doesn't mean that the novel loses steam once the war ends. In fact, the situation once peace is declared gives Turtledove plenty of material not only for the final two hundred pages of In at the Death, but could provide enough grist for future novels. Beginning the series in the 1990s, the books now can be seen almost as representative of either the US involvement in Iraq, or more directly in the form of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, where the combatants are as close to each other as in these novels.
In at the Death forms an excellent coda to this massive series of eleven novels. Turtledove provides suitable denouements for all of his characters and allows them to get just nostalgic enough for the lives they once led and the characters who did not make it through to the end of the book without getting maudlin. At the same time, Turtledove does not sugar coat the difficulties facing the characters, or North America, in the aftermath of the fourth major war in eighty years.
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