Last Orders is the sixth and final book in the War That Came Early alternate history series by author Harry Turtledove. Alternate history is a genre where the author takes a particular event in history and extrapolates what would have happened if things had gone a little differently. In this case, Turtledove supposes that France and England so not practice appeasement with the Nazis early on in their aggression, but declare war about a year earlier than they actually did.
I’d like to say that it was worth it to read all of these books. I had hopes that I’d muddle through the other books in the series and feel like at least the conclusion felt like it was worth it. Turtledove has a tendency to be repetitive. There are many times when he jumps between characters and it seems there was no point to switching to their viewpoint other than to reiterate that the same things are still going on in their lives and their corner of the war.
The war is winding down, as you probably have surmised, this being the last book in the series. The German people aren’t too happy that after all of this they are heading for a second defeat in just about 25 years. They begin rising up against the Nazis and eventually Hitler is assassinated after deciding to go hold a rally right at the heart of the unrest. Of all the contrived plot twists along the way of this series, I think this was the worst. I was waiting for it to be revealed that it really wasn’t him; that he somehow outsmarted those who were against him; but no, he makes one of the blatantly stupid decisions that makes absolutely zero sense.
That’s not all as the United States battles Japan. They haven’t declared war on Germany through most of this series, which you would think would allow them to crush the Japanese since they weren’t fighting a two-front war. However, events in the Pacific drag out at least as long as they did in reality, if not longer. At the same time, Japan is running night raids on Hawaii that include bioweapons.
At the same time, everyone is nervous about the Soviets, and I mean everyone. Having switched to fight against them midway through the war before switching back, suddenly England and France are worrying about their “ally” again and what their march into Eastern Europe means. Having lost the war without a nuclear bomb r two being dropped on them, the Japanese worried about Soviet control of East Asia, including China. And the U.S. is just starting to worry about them.
No nuclear bombs? You read that correctly. The Manhattan Project was basically abandoned for being “too costly with no result.” I find that hard to believe since German scientists who escaped knew the Nazis were trying to develop these weapons and that alone should have driven the United States to continue to research them. Even with the war winding down, you’d think they’d realize that many of those German scientists are going to fall into Soviet hands and then they will have a head-start on that research. It truly was a WTF moment for me, especially the way it was handled. Albert Einstein himself, who we haven’t heard a thing about in the previous five books, suddenly drops in on the wife of the man who killed the Project and has a conversation with her. It just made no sense.
As for the characters we’ve followed all along, they all have endings. It vacillated between “happily ever after” and marked indifference. Really, it felt like I stuck with it through this whole series for nothing.
When I first started reading Turtledove 20+ years ago, I really enjoyed his writing, even if it had a few issues. After reading this, I don’t feel like he can be called “the master of alternate history” and longer. The repetitious nature of his writing is hard to ignore when the story doesn’t seem to make sense. I can tolerate some issues if there’s a good payoff, but there’s none here. I started seeing that in The Big Switch and it just became worse as the series went on. If you haven’t started the series, I recommend you skip it and pick up some Robert Conroy instead.
Previous book in the series (link): Two Fronts: The War That Came Early Book 5 by Harry Turtledove