It’s hard sometimes to go back and review a book from a series when you’ve already read some of the books that follow it. It’s not just a matter of knowing what happens; it’s also a problem if you’ve been disappointed by some of the story angles.
I love alternate history. I love imagining what would have happened if something went a different way. In this case, noted alternate history author Harry Turtledove makes the case for World War II beginning in 1938, with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain standing up to Hitler, rather than trying to appease him to avoid war. It’s an interesting premise and one that is quite feasible. Although that is the main difference, Spanish Nationalist Jose Sanjuro has not died in an airplane crash back in 1936. He is now the leader of the Nationalists and Spain is in the midst of a Civil War as well.
When Hitler attacks Czechoslovakia, everyone begins taking sides. The Czechs try to defend themselves but are no match for the power of the German army. Many Czechs flee and set up a government in absentia in France.
Turtledove’s style is to tell his story from the point of view of characters who weren’t famous. Many are ordinary people, soldiers, and sailors who recount their everyday life. In this case, there are so many people, that it’s easy to lose track. There are multiple people in Spain involved in the Civil War there. There’s a Jewish family in Munster whose father fought in the First World War and doesn’t understand why he can’t fight now. There’s a German pilot, there are Russian pilots, there are Czech soldiers, and there are Japanese soldiers (you didn’t think they were going to miss out, did you?) There are American Marines in China. There’s an American woman at first stuck in Czechoslovakia and later in Germany. There’s a German UBoat commander.
The main problem is the sheer number of characters Turtledove is working with. In this case, he has to spend time setting up each situation. This is the first book of a six-book series, so there’s a lot of time setting up the situation, and then every time we switch back to that character, Turtledove beats us to death with many of the same details. It’s one of the main faults with Turtledove’s style and one that gets on my nerves after a while which is why I usually have to take a break in between his books. Each character could have so much more depth if we learned more about them, rather than always reading the very same details and thoughts of their setting. It’s hard to care about them when we know so little about them.
For example, Chaim Weinberg is serving in the Abraham Lincoln battalion of soldiers; United States citizens who have traveled to Spain to fight in their Civil War. There’s very little said about his family and his background to understand what drove him to volunteer to be there. There’s no lamenting that he’s not at home or expression of regrets. There’s nothing much more than he’s an American Jew in Spain. This is the case for many of the characters and it’s one reason the book doesn’t totally live up to its possibilities.
I can’t say that Hitler’s War really grabbed me. It’s good and I want to see how all of this plays out eventually. I like the premise of the book so much I have kept reading. I want to know what happens in the end. Alternate history is that kind of genre – once you’re in you want to get to the end. I’d give this 3 stars but I love the genre. For someone who’s new to alternate history – this isn’t the place to start. You’re better off with an earlier series in Turtledove’s repertoire.
Next book in the series (link): West and East: The War That Came Early Book 2 by Harry Turtledove