13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 2003
The echoes of war loom over a divided North American continent in Harry Turtledove's American Empire: The Victorious Opposition, the third book in the middle trilogy of books. Starting with The Great War saga, Turtledove has told a tale of alternate history, with the Confederacy having won the Civil War and still being around in the early 1900s. The American Empire trilogy has told the story of the inter-war years, and Turtledove's ideas are fascinating. Unfortunately, the writing doesn't keep up with it.
Harry Turtledove really confuses me sometimes. I love the concept of this series and I love what he's doing with it. The idea of a Confederacy taking part in World War I and the rise of a Hitler-like figure in the downtrodden South that sparks World War II is fascinating. However, the way he writes just annoys me. His constant repetition (he uses the same metaphors over and over) and his need to introduce his characters every time we see them in the book are just grating. We know that Abner Dowling served under Custer during the First World War and that Dowling didn't like him. Even if we hadn't read the previous books, we got that the first time Turtledove introduces Dowling in this book. We don't need to get it again the next time, and the time after that. It's like Turtledove thinks that his readers don't have the attention span to keep all of his characters straight. While that may be a valid point (previous books have had a lot of viewpoint characters), Turtledove has actually toned that down in this one, having only a few characters act as main ones. Others are introduced as some of the previous ones die off, keeping the cast to a manageable level.
This brings up another point as well. Turtledove is not afraid to kill off some of his characters, so it's nice that you don't quite know who's going to survive and who's going to live. However, some of the characters' fates are so obvious that it felt really boring, just waiting for the inevitable end to the storyline. Some of these characters we have been following for six books now, so it seemed a shame that their deaths were so telegraphed. Even when they weren't telegraphed, they seemed very perfunctory. Two of the characters just die off with no real ending to their ongoing story, which bristled. We've been waiting six books for the payoff to their story, expecting some sort of comeuppance or resolution, but nothing happens. The character just dies and that's it. End of story. I was not amused. Turtledove also spends time developing his next set of characters who will carry the next series, with the sons and daughters of our well-known characters finally getting their time on stage so we can get to know them.
Another fault with the book is one I had with the Blood & Iron as well. Too much of the history is a pale imitation of what really occurred in history. Some of it is unavoidable. Jake Featherston is Hitler. The blacks in the Confederacy are the Jews from our real history (brought to life in a very chilling scene late in the book). The United States is Britain as it led up to the war (though at least Turtledove avoids having the President make a speech about "peace in our time"). However, Turtledove doesn't make it different enough to be as interesting. Kentucky, a state that the USA has controlled since the war, is the Rhineland, even down to the Confederacy moving in troops when they promised to keep it demilitarized for twenty-five years. While all the events in the book inevitably led to the conclusion we all know about (World War II), the events themselves should have been at least slightly different. That's what made The Center Cannot Hold more interesting. Different events occurred, surprising the reader even as we know where it will ultimately lead.
With all of this wrong with the book, how were the characters? Just like other Turtledove books, they were hit or miss. Some of them are interesting (Chester Martin and his attempt to unionize the construction industry in California really has me wondering where Turtledove is going with this one, which is a good thing), while others are bland and boring (Nellie Jacobs has to be one of the most worthless characters I've ever read about). Others are intriguing just because of who they represent in real history (Featherston, Clarence Potter). Overall, Turtledove does a passable job.
One good thing about the book, however, is the mood. As the book reaches its conclusion and war looms on the horizon, there's a palpable sense of fear and resignation that, because of Featherston, war is unavoidable. The United States has finally drawn a line that he can't cross, and when he does (just like in real life), the inevitable conflagration occurs, leading us into the next series. The tension is very well done, making the ending much better than the rest of the book.
The Victorious Opposition is a triumph of concept over prose, and I think that's why I can't read any other series by Turtledove. The concept of this entire series has kept me hooked for six books, when other, better-written books have turned me off and forced me to give them up. If you are a fan of alternate history and can get past the wretched prose and obvious characters, then give this book a try. If you are not in that select group of people, then give it a miss.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I must say that I really enjoyed this book, and find the critisms placed in previous reviews to be rather baffeling. Particularly the comments aboust slavishly sticking to "real history".
From very early in the novel on I was gripped by Turtledoves writting and drawn back into the alternate world he has created. I must admit to being very happy with how he has drawn the media into this book, using both the radio and newspapers as tools to allow us to find out whats going on in the world (this is done by characters talking about the news from radio/ new papers not with "articles"). I also found the writting very personal and people orientated, rather than events driven as in previous books. This really did felsh out the characters who have at times in the past seemed a bit wooden, this also left with me with a genuine sense of lose when Turtledove killed off some of the veiw point characters, however I expect he will continue these threads merely picking up a new character from that group.
As for the "sticking to real history", I am in 2 minds about this. Yes he has followed "real" history and the Freedom party does bare a canny resemblance to the Nazi's, but thats as far as it goes I feel. I felt more that Turtledove is commenting on cyclical nature of History, and the enivitability of human weaknesses and follies. If you take a look at European History you can see the same patterns repeating time after time after time, the characters change, the powder keg moments differ but beyond that the same thing happens time after time. Having said all that I was slightly disappointed by the end of the novel, I was hoping that Turtledove would twist and have the USA start the fight not the CSA rather than the CSA calling the shots.
All in all I enjoyed this novel, Turtledove has slightly refreshed his cast and repositioned his key players. Now we just have to wait for the guns to fire. 4 stars rather than 5 as I can't wait for the action to start again.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2012
The final book of the American Empire trilogy but the 7th book in the 11 volume series imagining what might have happened had the South won the American Civil War.
This trilogy bridges the books that concentrate on the First and Second World Wars. Unfortunately, it is extremely obvious where the plot is going and it would have been a lot better had it been a single volume.
The story is told via the lives of an assortment of characters with each chapter containing a number of smaller sections that advance the main plot and a single character's story. Not every chapter covers every character and so it tends to be fairly major events in their lives that are focused on. This sometimes males it quite easy to predict what is going to happen in each segment and I found myself often knowing in advance when a character was going to be killed off, for example.
It's still an OK book but if you're intrigued by the premise and want to skip a few books you could easily miss out this entire trilogy. There are plenty of recaps along the way (also quite annoying) so you won't really miss anything.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 4 September 2003
Having read the entire series so far, I must admit I'm only still reading them to see what happens. Although Turtledove does write good stories, I find his alternate history less than perfect. This book shows a slavish obsession with the events of our history. This history diverged in 1862, is it really realistic that the same events will still be happening on the same days, only with different players? I don't think so.
By all means if your following the series read the book, it is interesting. But if you haven't read the series so far I'd give it a miss as you won't follow the back story of the characters and the events are formulaic and uninspiring.