If you haven’t noticed, one of my favorite genres is alternate history. I love the concept of something happening a little bit differently than it did and extrapolating a different history from that point. One of the top authors in that field is Harry Turtledove. He’s written many books in this genre. Two Fronts is the fifth book in his The War That came Early series, which imagines England and France engaging Hitler and Nazi Germany earlier than they did in real life.
The European continent is suffering under a multi-front war at this point. Not only do you have Nazi Germany engaged with England, France, and Russia, but Spain is suffering under a Civil War as well. General Franco was killed by a particularly skilled sniper there, but the war still drags on. Most of the action on the European front here has to do with advances in weaponry being rolled out by the Germans as well as Russia and Englans.
The United States is not involved on the European front. They are dealing with Japan in the Pacific. Having taken Midway, Japan is using that as a jumping-off point for dropping biological weapons on Hawaii.
Turtledove tells his story in his usual style; jumping around from character to character giving various viewpoints as to what is happening. The problem with this series – and it’s been there from the beginning – is there are just so many characters on the canvas. Turtledove is also very repetitive with each character, while never really advancing their story much.
There’s a lot of waiting around doing nothing in a war, and unfortunately the characters suffer from that. There are only so many ways you can tell the tale of a German pilot going out on a bombing run and returning. After a while it feels like some segments were just the same thing over and over again. Turtledove doesn’t have a problem killing off point-of-view characters normally, and unfortunately I think he should have done that with a few more and ended their storyline.
For example, Peggy Druce is a Philadelphia socialite who was caught in Europe when Hitler advanced into Czechoslovakia and ended up stuck in Nazi Germany. Her point of view as an American trying to get home ad being stuck there was interesting. When she eventually got home, it was interesting to see her perspective on what was happening in Europe differ from that of other people in the United States because she had first-hand experience. However, once she started working to help drum up support for the war (and President Roosevelt), it seemed there wasn’t much else for her to do. There’s some personal issues in her life in this book that brings the perspective of the way relationships become fractured in a war, as well as the beginning of what sounds like the Manhattan Project, but it really goes nowhere. Her ship could have been sunk “accidentally” by the Germans when she was traveling home and it would have been a good place to end her story.
The intrigue in England has come to something of a close, and that was interesting. Two books prior, Nazi supporters in the UK convinced the government to throw their lot in with the Germans against the Soviets. This had to do with a lot of intrigue as well as the “accidental” death of Winston Churchill who was one of the loudest voices against the Nazis. It made for some interesting diversions from the drudgery of war, but that story is pretty much over. The circumstances that lead to England finding themselves where they are now are just repeated over and over.
Nearly every point of view character is feeling tired by this point. I want to finish the series to see how Turtledove closes it out, but it really feels like I’m forcing myself along now. The characters aren’t all that interesting anymore and it feels like most of what is happening is outside of these characters’ perspective – they just talk about it amongst themselves and their friends to reveal what has happened. If you’re not absolutely devoted to Turtledove or alternate history, I wouldn’t recommend this series.
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