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Harry Turtledove
The Grapple
616 pages
Harry Turtledove's Settling Accounts: The Grapple continues his alternate history of the Second World War. A world where the Confederate States still exist and are run by a Hitler-like madman intent on wiping out the black population.

Having not read the other novels in this series, I found it was rather easy to get the plot, although I was getting a bit of a vibe that Mr Turtledove wasn't trying too hard to reinvent the wheel, as everything sounds rather familiar.

The Confederate army is retreating in disarray from Stalingrad…I mean, Pittsburgh. The United States destroyed a whole army in that inferno and has now taken back the momentum. General Irving Morrell, the flashy "barrel" (tank) commander, wants to continue driving a wedge through the entire Confederacy - and it's becoming apparent that he can do it.

The Confederates are on their heels, retreating so they don't get cut off and losing ground in huge chunks. Could the war be over soon? Meanwhile, the "final solution" for the black people in the Confederacy continues, though U.S. troops are coming close to the biggest extermination camp, Camp Determination, which may add impetus to the attempt by some people in the North (notably, Senator Flora Blackford) to get the word out about what is going on.

Jake Featherston, dictator, madman, and president of the Confederacy, can't allow that to happen. But the more troops he sends to defend the camp, the less he has to defend the rest of the country. Things look incredibly bleak for the Confederacy. But the race to build a "uranium bomb" may hold the key to the end of the war.

The repetition in this book is somewhat monotonous. Turtledove insists on introducing characters again and again, having them say the same things (I don't know how many times we are told that the Confederates were supposed to win a one-punch victory, or that Featherston should have listened the first time to the scientist who brought the idea of the uranium bomb). There is some justification for introducing characters multiple times, but there is none for repeating the same actions, phrases, or figures of speech over and over again.

I did love the plotting, wondering what Turtledove's going to do with the war. His inclusion of car and "people" bombs brings a contemporary feel to the book, and the fear they imbue is palpable. I loved the scenes with the two black groups of rebels rampaging through Georgia. Turtledove introduces a few new characters to make up for a couple of deaths, though he then kills a couple more main characters off. You have no idea who will live or die in this series, and all of the deaths seem unforced by the narrative. They bring a touch of humanity to one of the characters, overwhelmed enough by what he is doing that he finally makes the final decision.

One thing I would have liked to see more of was the Canadian rebellion. Of course, the book is bloated enough as it is, so maybe it's a good thing he didn't add more.

Despite the predictability, repetition and rather easy plot it is still a pretty good read, mostly due to Mr Turtledove's rather engaging style of writing, and I shall be looking forward to reading the final part in this series shortly.

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