Settling Accounts In at the Death Hardcover – Jul 31 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Alternate history master Turtledove brings his 10-book saga of a Confederate Civil War victory to a satisfying if predictable conclusion. Outfought by the United States and their German allies (as anticipated in 2006's Settling Accounts: The Grapple), the Confederates finally surrender, ending WWII. Now the Southern states must be brought back into the Union after four wars and 80 years of independence. The victorious Northern forces wage a brutal occupation, ruthlessly retaliating against the local population for ambushes and car bombs. While the Union joyously punishes the persecutors of those Negro residents of the Confederacy who survived the Freedom Party's genocide campaign, it fails to remedy its treatment of its own black citizens. With Canada and the secessionist Mormon territories remaining under martial law, some readers may wish that Turtledove follows this time line into uncharted territory in yet another sequel. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Here ends (probably) alternate history's closest rival10 volumes and a prequelto Robert Jordan's plethoric fantasy, the 11-volume Wheel of Time. The Confederacy crumbles in ruins, as Jake Featherstone meets the end he richly deserves. Generals Dowling and Morrell end with the high rank and position their efforts deserve, while Michael Pound recovers from burns received in a well-drawn tank battle, and Chester Martin ends his second war successfully, having kept his platoon commander from killing the whole platoon. On the other hand, the saga's four-contestant nuclear race leaves four nuclear powers still standing at war's end, and both soldiers and civilians contemplating the spectacle with crossed fingers. Moreover, race relations in the defunct Confederacy are horrible, entailing the murder of at least six million "colored," a genocide that dwarfs this-world Bosnia and Rwanda combined. Meanwhile, Clarence Potter, Cincinnatus Driver, and Flora Blackford will be working to heal the malignant scars in Turtledove's parallel continuum, so who can say how the U.S. might emerge? Perhaps into a three-cornered cold war (U.S., Germany, Japan)if and when Turtledove obliges reader curiosity A conclusion worthy of a nonpareil saga. Green, RolandSee all Product Description
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It's a world in which the Confederacy won the Civil War in 1862 thanks to a twist in history. In our world, just prior to the Battle of Antietam, a Union solider found a copy of General Robert E. Lee's General Order 191, which revealed the deployment plans of the Army of Northern Virginia as it moved into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Though some historians would argue the point, the discovery of those plans allowed the Union, then commanded by (the generally incompetent) George McClellan to force the Confederates into a battle at Antietam Creek that they weren't ready for. A battle which the Union won, and which became the military victory upon which Lincoln based the Emancipation Proclamation, which changed the entire character of the Civil War, especially in Europe, from an internal American dispute, to a war against slavery.
In Turtledove's universe, that never happened. Instead, the Confederates scored decisive victories in Pennsylvania and, with the help of British diplomatic intervention, gained their independence.
Through ten novels, Turtledove has weaved the story of what a North America dominated by two powerful and antagonistic countries might be like. And it hasn't been a pretty story. A Second Civil War in 1880, which led both countries to seek alliances in Europe. And, when those allies went to war in the early 20th Century, the USA and CSA fought each other in a brutal war that resulted in the CSA being ground down much in the way Germany was after World War I.
In what is apparently the final volume of the series, Turtledove lays bare the consequences of the choices that his characters have made. The destruction of the Confederacy that was anticipated in the last volume becomes inevitable long before the book is over. But that's only part of the story.
The far more interesting question, which many of the characters that we've come to know only start to deal with as the book ends, is what happens next. Will the United States be forced to occupy the former CSA for decades until it finally submits ? Will the people of the CSA ever really accept responsibility for the fact that they supported a man who murdered at least eight million people ? What ever happened to the Canadian rebels ? Or the Mormons for that matter ?
Even though the book stretches more than 600 pages,many of these questions are left unanswered, leading, of course, to the obvious conclusion that there might be at least one more book in the works.
It would be nice to see those loose ends wrapped up, but, in the end, this was a satisfying end to a series resulted from, and has created, more than a few interesting alternative history scenarios.
Harry Turtledove seems to have stepped back from his standard writing style, full of ticks and repetitions and written "In at the Death" as he wrote 20 years ago when he wasn't managing a handful of serial novels on several timelines -- competently, cleanly, and in good English, if not with the style of a Robert Crais or a Robert Harris, and a lot more enjoyable to read than the previous books in the series. The plotting is very good, and the fates of the central characters about what you would hope for and expect.
Jeff Pinkard gets hanged by the neck until... Good. But even better Turtledove lets Jonathan Moss make a decent defense, one that was legally stronger than "just following orders" allowed at Nuremberg. Whether he meant to or not (and I think it was fully deliberate), HT effectively raises a question still relevant (Darfur, Rwanda, Kosovo) as to just how far national sovereignty governs, and where the international community gets to make laws to fit genocide and other especially abhorrent crimes.
The ex-Navy Chief raised a bunch of questions about HT's total ignorance of the Navy and its methods of operating -- I'm a retired reserve officer from the engineering duty line -- that are the same ones that have bugged me since Carsten started learning to be a "ship handler" officer. I wish somebody had taken HT down to whatever naval base is close to his house and given him a bit of instruction.
I'm also a nuclear physics type, and the description of the CSA weapons project rings very hollow. With just a few lines here and there it could have been made much better. But to the skeptics who say the CSA couldn't have enriched uranium in Lexington, let me say that they didn't. Read it closely; the CSA uses a "jovium bomb" (ie Plutonium), probably a lot like the physics package used over Nagasaki. Still and all, I'm surprised that the reactor survived the bombing. And the notion that both England and Germany got the bomb, and all the countries got their first bombs within weeks of one another, is simply incredible and a very poor plot device. I think I would cut half a star just for that if Amazon would let me.
But there are strange and uncomfortable gaps. What did happen to the Mormons? Did they find Deseret in Hawaii? What about Yossel Reisen, Flora's nephew, or did I miss something? He's just gone. What happened along the railroad in Canada with Mary shot (and a good thing that!)? Did things settle down? I think not.
The CSA surrenders at Appomattox, with General Ironhewer (Who's he? He was parachuted in because HT could translate Ike's last name, and not because he was a pre-existing character -- a poor device) in the role of US Grant and Patton as Lee. But the ceremony is far more Yorktown than either Appomattox or Reims, and probably that's just right. But it wasn't "the world turned upside down."
Still, this is the best book in the Settling Accounts series. The best written, the most satisfactory plotting (gimmicks aside), but with an end that leaves room for a reunited USA to face the Empire of Japan, both armed with nukes, sometime around 1955 or 1965. With the Mormons being the meat in the Sandwich. (Sorry; couldn't resist.)
We begin with Atlanta on the verge of falling. It falls quickly and we soon have a bit of an exodus of viewpoint characters. Potter goes back to Richmond where he belongs, and various other characters split up as the US Army divides into several columns and makes multiple pushes at the same time, one due northeast into the Carolinas, one due southwest toward the Gulf Coast, and one due southeast. Also, the attack in northern Virginia resumes in earnest. I guess someone finally figured out how to run multiple campaigns at once.
I'm glad we don't have everyone on the same front anymore, but on the other hand it feels odd that, having all come together, they're splitting up just as easily. During the year since reading The Grapple I had entertained the idea that some sort of epic final showdown was in the works, and that's why almost everyone was present at the same place. Nope.
At this point Turtledove doesn't even bother telling us much about the progress of the various attacking armies; we just understand the US to be sweeping all before it. Along the way, US soldiers get attacked behind the lines by Confederate civilians, and begin a series of reprisals against them. When a US soldier is killed by an enemy out of uniform, the US rounds up hostages in an ever-higher proportion and executes them all if the perpetrators don't turn themselves in. US soldiers become very jumpy and the occupied territories become unpleasant places indeed. Chester Martin is under some punkish young lieutenant who hates Rebs and works a vicious slaughter against them, at one point massacring a town in South Carolina.
Meanwhile, the US Army finally looked at the sign that said "This Way to Confederate Atomic Bomb Project Headquarters" and attacked the uranium works (not a bad phrase). This set poor flustered FitzBelmont back so far he forgot to bait Featherston. The Brits are working on their own atomic bomb project and Featherston cajoles their ambassador to Richmond to swapping atomic secrets for rockets. (Speaking of rockets, you remember those terrifying missiles at the end of The Grapple? They get dropped. It's like a TV show that makes up a "We're gonna DIE!!!" moment right before the commercial break, then comes back from commercial and says "No, wait, never mind.") The Germans also send the US atomic information by way of a super-secret packet on Carsten's little ship.
You know, in the nineteenth century, in How Few Remain and even further back in the prologues of the first two books, Europe could dictate to North America. The Confederates took Philadelphia but it was Anglo-French intervention that really let them make good on their secession. With the British and French aboard, the US was helpless until the German alliance. When the Great War started, the North American powers were junior partners with significant minority stakes in their alliance systems. By the time the war was over, and during the interwar years, they had really become equal partners. I don't know why Turtledove is rolling that back here--"We can't figure out how to build atomic bombs, maybe the Europeans can help." Also, while I know we complain about the parallelism of TL-191 to real history, I would point out that here breaking from it is not necessarily the most sensible course. I refer to the fact that the atomic bomb was invented in North America and that all three European nuclear powers joined the club in large part through, by some means or other, be it cooperation or espionage, getting information from the American project. The lone European power to attempt to go nuclear without American help, Nazi Germany, failed spectacularly.
Anyway, atomic bombs start falling in Europe as the war drags on conventionally in North America. In Richmond, Forrest gets tired of waiting for Potter to get back to him and launches a coup on his own. His plan seems to be to bore Featherston to death with a long, rambling monologue. Featherston pushes a button that brings his guards to his office and they arrest Forrest and presumably torture him to death. My, that was exciting.
A short while later Richmond falls and Featherston relocates to nearby Newport News. FitzBelmont's bomb is done and Potter (who, remember, does a killer Lower New England accent) sticks it into a green-gray truck and, with a few other infiltrators, drives to Philadelphia, parks in an empty lot, walks away, and detonates it. So yes, the Confederates, who waited a whole year longer than the US to start their atomic project, who headquartered their research in a college best known for its programs in Greek and Latin, who set up shop ten feet away from the border, whose top political and military leadership is uneducated, who have less manpower and less industrial capacity than the US, win the race to finish an atomic bomb. (Actually, they call it a "sunbomb," of all the stupid things.)
Fortunately, at just this moment the US was putting the finishing touches on its bomb, and dropped it on Newport News, thinking they'd killed Featherston. Alas, they did not. A short while later he gets on the wireless and says "I'm here to tell you the truth! I had stepped outside on a smoke break when the bomb went off. A nice Confederate cigarette, too. . . . " At this point he's also become bizarrely reflective, privately reflecting that, if the CS loses the war, he won't care because he's already done everything he set out to do, and he did his best. . . . Sure. That's true to character.
Next Featherston needs to get to the interior of the CSA because that's the only significant unoccupied pocket of CS territory. He takes a little posse for one last madcap adventure, including Clarence Potter. At one point he asks Potter why he's stuck with him, Featherston, when they both know they despise each other. Yes, Potter, please tell me why! You've always said it's because you loved your country, and affairs had arranged themselves so that Featherston's leadership was the only thing that might save it. Well now Featherston's leadership has no hope of saving it, has in fact reduced it to the point where it needs but will not receive salvation; so why don't you turn on him?
Answer: He's got nothing better to do.
They don't get very far before Scipio's son runs into them on patrol. As soon as he recognizes Featherston's voice, he kills him. Then he arrests the rest of the gang. Ferd Koenig and Saul Goldman are soon executed for "crimes against humanity," a new charge which the Justice Department freely admits to having made up. They want to execute Potter too but they can't make the charges (which they're, umm, making up as they go along) stick so instead they hang him for going into battle disguised in a US uniform, in violation of the Geneva--Oh wait, I'm sorry. They just turn him loose. Well they do try to keep an eye on him, but how hard can it be for the former head of counterintelligence to shake a tail?
Meanwhile in Texas the governor declares himself President of a Republic out of nowhere. He seizes control of Pinkard's death camp and turns Pinkard and his pals over to the US Army for crimes against humanity trials. Moss, the lawyer, somehow ends up as Pinkard's defense attorney and does his best despite his contempt for Pinkard, but in the end Pinkard swings. In his last scene his wife, stepsons, and baby come to say a tearful goodbye.
This is a really sick scene. A general rule for the families of POV characters in this series has been that, if they've been present all along, the become a part of the character and contribute to his or her development; but children and especially spouses added further along the way have no chemistry at all, don't feature in the characters' development, and altogether waste space. There are a few exceptions: Scipio's son Cassius obviously became important in his own right. Achilles Driver and his marriage to a Chinese immigrant's daughter gave Cincy a chance to watch racial attitudes shift. Leonard O'Doull was a wonderful addition to the Galtier clan; then he went away from them and became Leonard O'Dull, his interactions with Lucien's brood reduced to an occasional letter to read during smoke breaks after his friend McDougald "passed gas." Well he did go back to Riviere du Loup for one scene, but it just reinforced my point: He went back for the wedding of his son to Paulette Archambault. Who in God's name is Paulette Archambault? And why in the blazes should any reader care?
So with a few exceptions, the tacked-on relatives do nothing for the character, even when they're interesting people in their own right, like Hal Jacobs, Hosea Blackford . . . I guess those are the only two. Pinkard's family was as flat as anyone else's, but one thing that had always been made clear was that Edith Blades Pinkard (inherited from a suicidal guard) was a woman of conscience and virtue. So what is she doing feeling such obvious affection for and, worse, dependence on this despicable monster? Sick.
So Pinkard hangs and some would say this was a great moral downfall. I really never saw where they came up with that. When Pinkard was introduced to us, I wouldn't've had him pegged for another Eichman right away, but he never came across as virtuous, either. He was a morally indifferent character who became evil. That's not a Faustian downfall. If anyone in this series is supposed to provide that, my vote would be for Potter.
With Featherston dead we can get this war wrapped up. The new President is Don Partridge. Partridge meets Morrell (who is apparently a State Department official) to sign over Confederate sovereignty. After he does this he says "Time to go run my country" and Morrell points out that he just signed an agreement saying his country doesn't exist any longer. Partridge is like "What?" and I had to shake my head and chuckle. In previous scenes, Turtledove never failed to TELL us that Partridge was dumb, but he never once SHOWED us till now--in the one scene in which we're supposed to take him seriously.
Gray Man gets voted out of office in favor of Thomas Dewey, whose running mate was Harry Truman. When I saw that as a spoiler I said "Gee, I wonder if Dewey had to defeat Truman to get the top half of the ticket." Ah, but it gets better still: On the night he wins, Dewey hold up a headline saying "Gray Man Defeats Dewey." At this point Turtledove falls into his own traps so willingly that you can't even parody him; you end up accurately predicting spoilers instead.
So the war is over but diehards are still bushwacking US soldiers so we can't demobilize. Our US military POVs spend the rest of the book either trying to get out of the service or trying to stay in. Among the former group, everyone who wants to eventually gets out except for Grimes. Among the latter group, Morrell becomes a governor, Moss a JAG, and Carsten retains command of his ship (but then a mole starts bleeding, a creepy detail we're left to contemplate for all eternity without knowing what it signifies) and Dowling gets put out to pasture.
Of the Rebs, only Dover, Hip and Potter are still alive. All three are given opportunities to get involved in the resistance and turn them down. Potter meets an angry young man who's clearly supposed to be some sort of potential Featherston 2.0 and tells the youngster it's all over, they're never going to get back to their former glories, he needs to go home and give it a rest. I'm struck by how well that advice can be applied to those who demand a continuation of TL-191.
Cincinnatus's last sentence is him hoping his daughter enjoys the sex on her wedding night.
Junior Enos gets to go home and live the sort of happy life his father was denied. That was a nice touch.
Then the last scene, the one which comes as close to saving the novel, and all of Settling Accounts, as anything can: Flora meets her brother, who since losing a leg in the Great War has been an occasional sounding board for her. In an expansive mood, he asks her for the meaning of the last thirty years (the time spanned in the ten novels). She points out that the US dominates North America, if it can hold onto it, and the US at last has the continental hegemony it would have had had it won the Civil War originally. (Well she doesn't put it that way, we read that into it ourselves.) A few parting words that might as well be Turtledove's farewell to his loyal TL-191 readers (I might have liked an apology in there, actually) and then the last paragraph of the entire series, which is about . . .
Cigarettes. (No, I'm not kidding.)
At the end of the last volume, the Confederacy was sliding towards what seemed an inevitable defeat, with U.S. forces striking towards Atlanta, General Sherman-style. While Turtledove picks up where he leaves off, he throws in enough twists to keep the story interesting. And though the war ends well before the last page, there is more than enough in the later chapters to satisfy readers who have followed the series from its initial volume, How Few Remain, as the postwar fates of many lasting characters are sketched out for the reader. As a result, while this volume may lack some of the imagination of his "Crosstime Traffic" series, longtime fans of the series will find little to disappoint them here.
Sadly, like all of his books, this one suffers from his writing style. In a nutshell, he's incredibly repetitive. His dialogue, both internal and external, is always the same, and doesn't add anything to the book. Among the "insights" Turtledove constantly beats us over the head with are the following: Enlisted men think their officers are stupid. Soldiers hope they don't get killed. Every character is surrounded by idiots who can't understand what he's saying. No one likes black people. Everyone swears a lot. Soldiers who have sex with women in the occupied areas will get venereal disease. There's nothing wrong with these ideas in and of themselves, but every character has to think them or say them in every scene. Harry - we get it! You don't need to keep saying the same things over and over. Any time a black person says something that makes sense, the person being talked to is shocked that such a thing could happen. Countless characters blush, turn red or blink when someone says something. A typical scene goes something like this: Soldier A: "You horrible people killed all those Negroes." Soldier B: "It's not like you wanted them in the U.S.A." Then Soldier A blushes. There are about 400 scenes of someone complaining and then the person they are complaining to swearing at them and telling them they can get away with that because their side won. It's just a very unsophisticated level of discourse.
The book also seems a little unbalanced. The war ends about 2/3 of the way through and the last 200 pages are the aftermath. It seems like he's ending it too far from the climax. Yes, we want to know what happened to the characters afterwards, but this is a little much.
Overall, if you've read the other books in this series you'll have to read this one. If you haven't read any of them, and you think you can put up with the writing style, start at the beginning or this one won't make any sense.