JAWS OF DARKNESS
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The fifth novel in Harry Turtledove’s epic Derlevai series, Jaws of Darkness sees momentous events occurring in the war between Algarve and the rest of the continent. Ironically, as the tide of battle shifts, so does Turtledove, turning his attention away from the actual war and focusing more on the individuals whose stories he has built up over the preceding four novels. This adds a strength to the book which some of the earlier novels were lacking.
Although some voices are sadly missing, most notably Cornelu, the leviathan rider murdered in the previous installment, Turtledove provides plenty of different views of the conflict and the forces behind it. Early in the novel, Hajjaj, the prime minister of Zuwayza, questions how people can turn a blind eye to the treatment of Kaunians by Algarvians. His answer is provided in the form of Constable Bembo and Colonel Sabrino, both of whom try their best to ignore the massacres of Kaunians, but are unsuccessful, and by Spinello, who uses his skewed view of history and own feelings of superiority to embrace the massacres.
The Kaunian point of view is most visible when Turtledove writes about Vanai, who was captured by the Algarvians at the end of Rulers of the Darkness and placed in a ghetto to await both the birth of her baby and her eventual exile to be used in a power-grab massacre by the Algarvians. While her story could have been strengthened by showing the squalor she was forced to live in compared to the lives in rest of the war-ravaged city.
Turtledove has also begun to set the stage for major social upheaval in the wake of the war. In earlier volumes, noblemen found themselves suddenly concerned with the opinions of the common folk, in Jaws of Darkness, we see Talsu, son of Traku, considering a world, or at least his country, without a monarch. Similarly, Krasta finds herself facing a potential rebellion of her household staff when her protector, Lurcanio, leaves her mansion.
Many readers have commented on the similarity of the world of Derlevai to World War II, however, there are major differences, one of which appears functionally in Jaws of Darkness. The long hinted at Habakkuk project, based on the failed Habakkuk of our world, gets underway, with the Kuusaman mage Leino instrumental in its success, proving Turtledove with another viewpoint and a counter to Leino’s wife, Pekka, who is working on the still mysterious version of this world’s Manhattan Project.
With the emphasis on individual characters rather than the grand scheme of the world, it is not a surprise that relationships are getting murkier. Pekka and Fernao keep trying to avoid the feelings they have for each other while Leino finds himself facing similar temptations from a Lagoan mage on the Habakkuk. Krasta finds herself pregnant with a question about who the father of the child is. Perhaps the most poignant story of relationships made difficult is that of Garivald, who is finally able to return to his home village.
Once again, Jaws of Darkness appears to be setting up the endgame for the war, but Turtledove has broken that promise befor eto throw various twists and turns at the reader and examine a variety of new issues. Several of his stories, on all fronts, have achieved a new level of intrigue which makes the eventual appearance of Out of the Darkness in 2004 that much more anticipated.
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