Thoughts on “Return Engagement”, Book 1 of “Settling Accounts”

So, I rolled the dice with “The War That Came Early” and lost. Now I’m rolling the dice with “Settling Accounts”, also by Harry Turtledove. Am I going to win, or has it come up “Snake-Eyes”?

I think I won with this one.

Admittedly, “Settling Accounts” is the finale of a setting where the Confederates I guess won the Civil War, which meant that they just got to do what they wanted. After a couple of other wars, the last war has the United States controlling Canada and punishing the Confederate States for the last war with ruinous reparations and the like. This series opens with the Confederate States, under their President Jake Featherston, attack the United States with a concerted armour drive, while the war in Europe rages on, and Japan strikes at the United States itself.

Starting from such a dramatically different history that has already been developed, we definitely see much more differences between our world and that one, which is a plus. Also, we have access to the highest halls of power through Jake Featherston himself and Flora Blackford, and important member of Congress, which means that we get to see the machinations and the points behind each push, including inside the highest levels of the military. All of this leads to things making far more sense and fitting together so much better than “The War That Came Early” did.

If I had to criticize it — and this applies to the previous books in this world as well — it’s that this part of the war and the Confederate States are modeled a bit too much on Nazi Germany. It would have been nice to use similar themes without retreating to “Serviceman rises to the top and decides to exterminate the inferior race and take advantage of plebiscites and a Blitzkrieg to at least have a successful initial push”. Turtledove seems to know a lot about the traditional WWII, and doesn’t seem to have the imagination to create a completely new and unique world without blowing it all up and starting from scratch.

That being said, that’s a minor complaint. Overall, this series maintains the personal touch and level of Turtledove’s other works while fitting far better in an overall historical context. So, definitely an enjoyable work of alternate history.

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