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Turtledove's alternate history saga continues

By James T. Voelpel     January 23, 2002

The undisputed "master of alternate history," Harry Turtledove, offers up an American Empire in BLOOD AND IRON.
© 2002 Ballantine Books
It's easy in the realm of alternative history to take famous events or outcomes and turn them on their ear. The really great novels of this genre take us to a time after these more memorable events, expanding them in ways we could not have foreseen. Harry Turtledove, the preeminent alternative history writer, accomplished this in his epic series, THE GREAT WAR. This was the WWI fought here in North America, with the U.S. and its Imperial German allies versus the Confederacy, France and England; this truly was a world war. Now Turtledove continues the tale of the victorious U.S.A. and the beaten C.S.A. in his new "American Empire" series with BLOOD AND IRON.

The Great War has ended, and an uneasy peace reigns around most of the world. But nowhere is the peace more fragile than on the continent of North America, where bitter enemies share a single landmass and two long, bloody borders. The U.S. and Germany have imposed their "blood and iron" peace on Britain, France, Russia, and the Confederacy. Much like post-war Germany in our world, the C.S.A. attempts to overcome depression, dissension, and hyperinflation. The Union struggles to stay on top and keep its newly acquired territory under control. The ancient war-horse General Custer has his worst nightmare come true when Socialist Upton Sinclair is elected as president in 1920 while struggling to keep his control over the Union's new Canadian territory. In the Confederacy, former artillery sergeant Jake Featherstone leads the Nazi-like Freedom Party (in an eerie similarity to an Austrian Corporal), a dangerous fanatic whose rise in the Confederacy is based on the preaching of hate. With tensions high, and an army of Marxists lurking in the swamplands of the Deep South, many are eager to return to war. As it was in our Europe post-WWI, the time seems right for madmen and demagogues.

BLOOD AND IRON is what alternative history should be, where not only people, place, and events are changed, but ideas too. From the first appearance of the Freedom Party in the novel, you can see how the rise of the Nazi movement in our world came about, this time with a traditional American background. Many people have wondered how a madman like Hitler could seize power and why the German people swept him there. The novel answers these questions by showing how a people so downtrodden and economically depressed look to someone to lead them back to power and respectability. This is the breeding ground for Hitlers, Mussolinis and Jake Featherstone. The novel also brings back sixteen characters from "The Great War" series, along with many new ones. This is always a trait of Turtledove's novels - a huge cast of characters. Sometimes it's the strength of his writing and sometimes it's a weakness, not letting us get a real handle on who these people are, but in BLOOD AND IRON it's both. Some sections really make you feel you know a character, while others leave you a bit wanting.

This is the book's only real weakness. Fans of this genre or casual readers should be reading and waiting for the rest of this "American Empire" to be revealed.


Grade: A-

Author(s): Harry Turtledove

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Price: $27.95



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