This is the first novel in Turtledove’s American Empire series, which picks up where his last series, The Great War leaves off.
Turtledove writes a genre known as alternate history. This series of novels were crafted on the presumption that the Confederacy won the Civil War and achieved independence from the United States. They fought again twenty years later in the Second Mexican War (How Few Remain) and again in the World War I period. The U.S. aligned itself with Germany while the Confederacy aligned itself with England and France. The U.S. was finally able to defeat the Confederacy this go-round.
Blood & Iron picks up following the end of the war. In the Confederate States, they are plagued by having to pay reparations to the U.S. causing tremendous inflation. Enter Jake Featherston, who we know from the previous series of novels. Convinced that the aristocracy present in the Confederate War Department is largely to blame for losing the war as well as his own inability to advance in the military despite a great record, he forms the Freedom Party. The tactics of the Freedom Party, as well as Featherston’s own speeches are eerily reminiscent of the Nazi Party. At one point he even talks about “giving the gas” to blacks on whom he also lays a great deal of the blame for the lost war. Their Socialist uprising in the middle of the fighting hurt the Confederacy a great deal.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., winning the war is not enough to secure a third term as President for Teddy Roosevelt. He is unseated by the Socialist Upton Sinclair as former soldiers react to coming home and finding themselves at the mercy of capitalist factory owners.
The main characters are people known from the previous series. If you haven’t read it, chances are you will be lost if you pick up this book and try to read it. As always, he has a great deal of them. However, he does not promise that all of them will survive and I believe that he has started out with so many because of this. It can be confusing at times because he jumps around so much. Each chapter contains some vignettes about certain characters and it can be hard to follow. I also found it hard figuring out how much time had passed in certain instances.
Some of the characters we’ve known seem to have nothing to do here. They are just living their lives and not doing anything spectacular. People who seemed interesting during the war seem somewhat dull now. However, my general feeling is that Turtledove is building up towards the Second World War. Most of his characters talk about the Confederacy and the U.S. fighting once again.
The novel didn’t really grab me until about the last one hundred pages. Before that, I found it hard to plow through. In this last bit, Turtledove seems to get his groove and many characters become interesting again. In particular, I liked how he contrasted two Canadian farmers. Lucien Galtier is in the new Republic of Quebec. The war benefitted him and he is living a good life now. Arthur McGregor lives out in Manitoba and is embittered at the U.S. for the execution of his son who may or may not have been involved in a bombing back during the war. His bitterness is focused on punishing the U.S. and the soldiers who are occupying Canada. His bitterness allows him to justify the killing of innocents to “punish” the U.S. for its wrongdoings. Lucien reading about McGregor and lamenting about how his life could have been so different is a really profound part of this story.
If you are already reading the series, this novel is good because of what it is building up to. However, if you haven’t read the series, you will be confused. I think The Great War novels were much better, but I am excited as to what this novel is leading up to.
Previous book in series (link): The Great War: Breakthroughs
Next book in series (link): American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold