Thoughts on “Two Fronts”, Book 5 of “The War That Came Early”

So, the theme of “Two Fronts” seems to be, for the most part, “Return to the status quo”.

Yes, France flips and starts going after the Germans again, and Japan presses on against the United States, and so we mostly have the same situation as in the “normal” WWII, except that the United States hasn’t entered the war against Germany at this point. We even have a brief interlude in Egypt and Africa, where the Italians did better but still were getting pushed back, necessitating German involvement. But we never get to see any resolution there, as the viewpoint character gets injured, returns to England, and then ends up fighting in Belgium.

Unlike the second book, this book can’t just be ignored because important things do happen, although it’s debatable whether those things could have been simply summarized, especially since some of them, well, are just summarized. It also sets up a few things that are coincidental changes to history, by which I mean they just kinda happen and don’t follow easily or directly from the changes in the timeline. Churchill’s death, for example, does follow from the change in the timeline, but what we get in this book is the Manhattan Project getting shut down by the husband of Peggy Druce because it’s a waste of money, and Montgomery dying while trying to reach Egypt. Sure, you can argue that the former comes about because America is in a full war at that point where it wasn’t before, and the latter comes about because with the war starting early the Germans and Italians maintain dominance over the Mediterranean Sea, but this a) isn’t made clear in the book itself and b) is still a bit of a stretch. A reader of alternate history shouldn’t need to be an expert in it to enjoy the work, as the work should explain the relevant changes in a clear manner. And it isn’t like Turtledove didn’t have the room to do that, as he tends to summarize what has gone on before and the details of the characters every time he switches scenes, even doing so multiple times in the same book, so a little more exposition on the historical differences would have been appreciated. As it stands, if these are important the reader will feel that they were too convenient, and that the author put them in to enhance the differences and drive drama but couldn’t find a way to do it in line with the new history, and so just threw it in. This can work in small doses, but if overused it looks lazy. But, spoilers, neither of these matter in this series, at least.

Also, Arno Baatz becomes a viewpoint character at the end of this book. I swear I didn’t know about that when I wrote my thoughts on the last book, and I don’t think the switch added anything. But I’ll talk more about that when I talk about the last book, and the series as a whole.

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