Book Reviews

Book Review: Harry Turtledove – The Guns of the South: A Novel of the Civil War

“What if..” is a question that we ask at various turns in our lives, and why not history. What if all the votes… nah 🙂

Harry Turtledove is probably the best writer of alternate history that I’ve ever come across. Guns of the South is the first book Turtledove wrote using the premise of the Confederacy winning the Civil War.

For the feat to be accomplished, he adds a bit of science fiction in the form of time travel when a group of white supremacists in the early 21st century South Africa get their hands on a time machine. They travel back and equip the army of the Confederacy with AK-47 rifles.

Events do not turn out quite the way the white supremacists planned, however, and by the end of the book, it becomes clear that their original purpose will not be accomplished. They have, instead, unleashed upon the world a continent divided and bitter.

Turtledove uses actual historical figures such as Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln, and Nathaniel Bedford Forrest to tell the story. What surprised me most was when I read the afterword and discovered that the characters I had thought he invented for the sake of the story were actual people, he just wrote a story about them. Mollie Bean is actually a woman who fought for the Confederacy, though her path takes a different turn than it did in reality.

Unlike other Turtledove novels in the alternate-history genre, he doesn’t seem to jump all over the place with this one. The story is fairly contiguous and easy to follow.

The characters are well-written and we grow to care about them, moreso I felt than in some of the other books. It was interesting to think about Robert E. Lee having to make the tough – possibly even life-threatening – choices when dealing with the white supremacists.

From the extensive operation, care, and maintenance of the AK-47s to the divided continent’s political climate, Turtledove writes a detailed and compelling story. He has done some very thorough research. This allows him to portray the more well-known historical characters such as Robert E. Lee and Nathaniel Bedford Forrest (who is in our history credited with starting the KKK) in a way that seems to be more realistic rather than becoming one-dimensional.

Though not a part of his Great War series, it seems as if the premise he sets forth here is the jumping-off point for those novels, he just dropped the time-travel aspect of it.

Alternate history is one of my favorite genres. If you like this type of genre, it’s a masterpiece. And if you’ve never read any alternate history before, this book is the place to start.

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