THROUGH THE DARKNESS
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Harry Turtledove continues to mirror World War II in the third installment of his Derlavai series, Through the Darkness. While many of the countries, people and events in the series have analogs in the real world, there are enough differences to maintain tension
Turtledoveís military scenes clearly show the difference between strategy and tactics as almost all of his grunts view themselves as being on the receiving end of a major defeat, even when they intellectually know their countries are winning and the generals display a clearer knowledge of the course the war is actually running. At the same time, it isnít always clear to the reader where the fronts are and which direction they are moving at any actual time. This is caused partly by the lack of internalization of the provided maps, resulting in the reader either constantly referring to them to see where the action is taking place, or ignoring the maps and relying on the text for a description.
In Through the Darkness, Turtledove allows his characters to display previously unseen characteristics, whether it is the sympathy Colonel Sabrino exhibits when confronted with a sacrifice of Kaunians or Sargent Bembo, the doltish Algarvian constable who shows signs of being able to perform actual police work. Non-combatants also change throughout the course of the series. Talsu, the Valmieran tailor, learns that although he was a poor student, learning the old ways can be their own reward when he chooses to do so.
Just as characters are going through a state of flux, so too are cultures. Forthweg, Valmiera and Jelgava must deal with what it means to be occupied by their enemies, but even Algarve is changing. This is most noticeable in the officer/noble class. Colonel the Count Casmiro has turned his attention from huntin gbig game in Siaulia to hunting Unkerlanters on the front. In the process, although he is still of higher rank both officially and socially than the footsoldiers, he must deal with their opinions of him in a way which would probably have been unthinkable prior to the war.
Among the many victims of the war spread throughout the land are the various refugees. These range from the Kaunians who have managed to escape from the caravans taking them to the front, to Ealstan and Vanai, forced to flee Gromheort for political reasons, to Cornelu, the Sibian who was lucky enough to reach Lagaos before his country was overrun. However, none of Turtledoveís refuges are merely victims. All of the refugees he has elected to follow have demonstrated that they are willing to seek revenge and justice against the Algarvians who have unseated them. It will be interesting to see if Turtledove deals with Algarvian refugees in a similar way if future novels see a reversal in Algarvian fortunes.Turtledove has always demonstrated a willingness to kill his characters, whether they are likable or not, to exhibit the vicissitudes of war and life in general. In Through the Darkness, he kills both civilians and soldiers with equal abandon, keeping the reader alert for surprises and grounding the fantasy in dark reality.
The Darkness series continues to build in strength and intricacy as it continues. The scenario Turtledove spins is close enough to his alternate histories to appeal to the fans he has garnered in that area while it also allows him to play around with the fantastic elements which characterized so many of his early novels. If the books suffer from a surfeit of characters, some of the characters will appeal to some readers while other readers will empathize with other characters. These various characters also permit Turtledove to examine a greater part of his world.
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