So, my thoughts on “In at the Death”, the last book in the “Settling Accounts” series, and the series as a whole.
I give this book credit for doing something that “Last Orders” didn’t manage to do for “The War That Came Early”, which is that it managed to tie up most of the loose ends while still leaving issues for a “And history goes on” mindset. As such, this book is far more interesting to read than “Last Orders” was. That being said, Turtledove again sticks too closely to the actual events, making the parallel to Europe instead in the United States, with some minor changes. Part of the problem is that what he changes doesn’t make much sense, and what he maintains would have been done better if it had changed. For example, the trials and the like from the extermination camps plays out similar to what happened after WWII, but instead of creating any kind of homeland for the blacks they are trying to impose equality in the South … a monumentally bad idea and one that the North likely wouldn’t support either. Although that’s a bit minor, and is in some way a consequence of how Turtledove ends it: with the North finally winning a decisive victory and promising not to let the South rise again.
The thing is that Turtledove didn’t need to do this. While he seems obsessed with nuclear weapons — in his last few series, at any rate — he underutilizes them in his stories. Both the U.S. and Germany get mostly unlimited access to them while their enemies don’t, when there is little reason to think that their opponents wouldn’t get more than the one or two that they did manage while the U.S. and Germany have enough to use them with regularity. Turtledove had a wonderful opportunity to let the Confederacy start their program early enough to have more of them at the key moment, which then could have forced a brokered peace, as Featherston wasn’t insane enough to get into a nuclear exchange … especially one that he might lose. Then Turtledove could have left those who ran the extermination camps alone, but still had them shut down and the blacks evacuated and migrated to a new homeland in Africa … like somewhere near South Africa. This would have both kept an interesting parallel, ended things on a more interesting alternate history, and made the nuclear weapons the key turning point in history as well.
At any rate, what did I think of the series? First, would I read it again? Well, maybe, as part of re-reading that entire history again, but ultimately the series, on its own, gets all of its interesting parts from its ties to the previous series in that timeline. In and of itself, there’s little interesting history here. Turtledove’s characters are still interesting, but you can get tired of them after a while if they don’t do anything interesting. Was it worth buying? I’m not sure. It was good enough to read and I don’t regret buying it, and I definitely feel it was more worth buying than “The War That Came Early”, but if I’d had to buy it over again … I probably wouldn’t.
Which means this: after my experience with these last two series, I don’t think I’ll be buying books by Turtledove again, at least not unless I know that I’ll like them.