THE GREAT WAR
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Great War: Walk in Hell is the second installment of Harry Turtledoves "The Great War" series, covering, more or less, the second year-and-a-half of the war, along with the continuation of the revolt of the Confederacys Black socialists and the United States Mormons. Throughout the majority of the novel, the United States manages to retain the position of dominance it carved for itself in the first book, although the novel ends with the war no closer to an end and the outcome in just as much doubt as it was at the beginning of the book.
Turtledove tells the story from the viewpoints of several characters, which allows him to cover the breadth of the war. He may have introduced too many characters, however. On the one hand, Turtledove jumps from character to character so quickly he doesnt have time to bog down on any individual plot line. On the other hand, he spends so little time on each plot line, they only advance slowly over the course of the novel and the reader fells as if little is happening. Despite this, by the end of Walk in Hell, Turtledove has managed to advance the plot, if not the war, and he includes several surprises.
The most interesting parts of the novel remain those which take place away from the front lines: Flora Hamburger and the socialists in New York, the McGregors and Galtiers in occupied-Canada, Nellie Semproches Confederate-occupied coffee shop. Anne Colleton, who seems to be Turtledoves insight into Richmond politics, has been somewhat removed from the wheeling and dealings of the Confederacy, although Woodrow Wilsons successor does consult her on at least one occasion.
However, the main event of Walk in Hell is war and much of the time is spent shifting between the various fronts. Unfortunately, the action of one front seems, to the reader, more similar than to the characters taking part. While there are differences between the battles in the Canadian Rockies and the Roanoke front, the differences between Roanoke and Sequoyah are less obvious. Some of the most interesting fronts, the Black socialist revolt against the Confederacy and the Mormon revolt against the United States, are mostly dealt with at a distance.
One of the strengths of the battle sequences is the fact that Turtledove is not afraid to let his characters die, and he does kill off more than one. Once the first character dies, Turtledove has effectively heightened the tension of the novel because the reader doesnt know when another character might die. He also shows how character deaths are handled on the home front, both by his viewpoint characters and their associates.
Although dealing with entities which are, on the surface, familiar to the reader, Turtledove makes it clear that the United States, Canada and Mexico he is describing are far cries from their real world analogs. In the United States, rationing has been a way of life since the 1880s, with citizens required to apply to boards in order to get the necessities of life. The US has grown as a power since their defeat in the Second Mexican War, as chronicled in the Sidewise Award-winning How Few Remain, and were able to stop the Confederacy from building an analog to the Panama Canal. The Confederacy has been continuing to evolve as well, having manumitted the slaves shortly after the Second Mexican War, the government is now toying with the horrific idea of actually enfranchising the former slaves. Readers who allow their sympathies to be determined by real world affinities may find themselves disappointed with eventual outcomes.
Walk in Hell suffers from man of the same problems as American Front, the first novel in the series. In addition to the aforementioned jumping between scenes, the tenor of the times doesn't seem to come across well. At times, it feels as if Turtledove is describing the same societies that existed at the time of the Second Mexican War and at other times the book has more of a flavor of our World War II.
Walk in Hell manages to introduce several interesting, and potentially exciting, plotlines which, one assumes, will be resolved in one of the two remaining novels in the sequence. By covering so much of the war, Turtledove has given himself many possibilities to explore before the war ends.
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