This book kicks off yet another "alternative history" series from Harry Turtledove.
The basic premise is that there is another small continent or very large island in the middle of the North Atlantic, with massive natural resources, and which at the time of its' discovery by European fishermen in the late middle ages (in the 15th century) had no indigenous human population.
The new land, named Atlantis after the legendary lost continent, is fertile and quickly settled by British settlers, with French, and Spanish settlements further south. The continents which we call North and South America are found a few years later at about the time they were really discovered, and named "Terranova" (e.g. "New Land"). Their history from that point, judging by tangential references in the book, appears to follow roughly the same track as in real history. But the main emphasis in this novel is on the story of the first three hundred years of the colonies in Atlantis.
In form this book consists of three linked novellas set at the time of the Wars of the Roses, 17th century pirates and buccaneers, and the Seven Years War respectively. Each tells of a key stage in the development of the colonies in Atlantis, as seen through the eyes first of Edward Radcliffe, who founds the first English settlement in the new land, and then of his descendants.
Turtledove once wrote that alternative history provides a "funhouse mirror" through which we can take a different perspective on real history. He has put this into practice: others have described his novels as having taken their plots from actual events but with different historial and fictional individuals and races playing the same roles.
For example, in his book "In the presence of mine enemies" a Third Reich which had won World War II eventually collapses in exactly the same way that the real Soviet Union collapsed. Similarly, Turtledove's massive eleven-book saga which begins with "How Few Remain" tells the dystopian history of a world in which the Confederate States of America initially won independence and survived for nearly a century but followed almost exactly the historical course which in the real world led to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust (subtext: "Don't kid ourselves that we're superior - it could have happened here.") He also wrote a couple of series in which the history of real events such as the US Civil War ("Sentry Peak" et. seq.) and World War II (The Darkness/Derlavi series) is described as if taking place on worlds where technology is based on magic instead of engineering.
In the same way, the first three hundred years of the history of Atlantis in this book is remarkably similar to the history, up to the end of the Seven Years War in the mid 18th century, of the thirteen colonies which were to found the United States of America a few years later. This isn't really a different history, it's an alternative way of describing the historical background to the founding of the USA from discovery to about two decades before the Declaration of Independence. The seeds of future conflicts - potential arguments between English settlers and the British crown, plantations in the south of Atlantis (originally created by the French and Spanish) which use slave labour - can also be seen in the novel.
Everything Turtledove writes these days seems to get slammed by some readers who hate it and praised by others who loved it. IMHO while this isn't a work of genius like "The Guns of the South" of "The Two Georges" it is one of Harry Turtledove's better novels. I liked the characters, I thought the action was well paced, the descriptions imaginative, the sequence of historical events broadly plausible. And he keeps his tendancy to repeat things too much reasonably well in check.
A sequel, "The United States of Atlantis" has just come out and I am looking forward to reading it.
harry turtledove, famous for his various series of alternate history novels, brings us the first volume of a new one here. the premise being: what if there was a landmass in between europe and america? and what if it had been discovered and then colonised in the fifteenth century?
This opening volume runs for 519 pages and is complete in itself, but does leave the door open for sequels.
It follows the history of the new world via several generations of the same family. The first two hundred pages deal with the initial colonisation. whilst the first hundred lack drama things soon change in the second half when an exiled noble from britain arrives and brings conflict to the first settlement. Do stick with this through those opening pages because it does become a fair bit of a page turner once the noble turns up.
the next part of the book is a one hundred page long story of a struggle between two cousins. one a pirate, and the other a respectable trader. the latter tries to bring the former down. this is a very engrossing tale of warfare.
as is the next part, a two hundred page section dealing with war breaking out in the new land between british and french and spanish settlers, as a result of similar happening in europe. the writing really considers how war would take place in such a setting, and the jungles and the strange creatures of the place are vividly described. two of the main characters in the part also have moral debates about slavery and then sovereignty, offering food for thought.
This does take a while to get going, but it then becomes another entertaining read from a master of the alternate history form. I look forward to The United States of Atlantis the forthcoming next volume
turtledove has his usual set of characters and speeches, just transplanted to different times and locations. the same here, with the novelty being the existence of a small landmass in the middle of theatlantic that, of course, implies major changes to the post-columbean age. however, he is not as playful with the history as he can be at his best, more transposing the colonial American history into the Atlantis...