MARCHING THROUGH PEACHTREE
by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Marching Through Peachtree is the second installment of Harry Turtledove’s re-envisioning of the Civil War. Turtledove has flipped the map of the United States and renamed places and individuals. While Marching Through Peachtree improves on the first novel in the series, Sentry Peak, it still fails to live up to its potential.
Turtledove has placed his revised Civil War in a fantasy setting with feudal overtones. Black slaves have become blond serfs, engineers have been replaced by wizards, and most of the generals from the real Civil War remain intact, although with their names altered to clever variations (i.e. Roast Beef William for William Hardee). However, Turtledove does not fully explore the changes which would have been caused to his world due to the presence of magic or the more Medieval social structure he has in place.
Because of these minor changes, many of which have little or no effect on the course of the war, it may be wondered why Turtledove decided to make them at all instead of writing a straight-forward historical novel, as he has done under the pseudonym H.N. Turteltaub with Justinian and Over the Wine-Dark Sea. One possible answer is that he wants to say something about the American condition which he felt needed some distance in order to be said. By placing these words in the mouths of his “Detinans,” he is softening criticism of Americans.
Turtledove’s characters each of their own personalities, although in some cases they seem to be almost caricatures rather than fully fleshed out characters. Nevertheless, even those who are pegged to behave in a specific way sometimes can surprise the reader, especially the reader who is unfamiliar with Sherman's Georgian campaign. Turtledove's strongest characters are the minor ones, Rollant, the blond freeman who fights for King Avram and Gremio, the Northern Captain. Turtledove is free to let them live their own lives and plots, although at least one of Gremio's (to be more fully revealed in the final novel?) is reminiscent of a plot twist from an earlier Turtledove Civil War novel.
Marching Through Peachtree is a pretty straight-forward retelling of a major campaign in the Civil War, enlivened by Turtledove's wordplay with names and the addition of magic. The book suffers from following history a little too closely. Nevertheless, the writing is of a quality which will keep readers turning the pages to see how Turtledove has adapted the Civil War to his fantastic vision.
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