So far, alternate history author Harry Turtledove has written ten books in a series based on the concept of what would happen if the Confederacy had managed to win the Civil War.
Settling Accounts: In At The Death is the eleventh in this series. It’s also the longest, coming in at just shy of 600 pages in hardcover. The alternate history of the North American continent has wound through a war twenty years after the Confederacy broke away. Mexico allies itself with the Confederacy and sells parts of its own country. A worldwide war is waged bringing in the alliances of the Confederacy, France, and England versus the U.S, Germany, and Ireland. Canada is occupied by the U.S. The collapse of the stock market and subsequent depression. Finally, there was the rise of a madman as a leader inside the Confederacy who figured out a final solution to the problem of former slaves rebelling and causing hate and discontent…
The conclusion of the series which involved the madman waging war on the U.S. once again is Settling Accounts: In At The Death. Like the other novels in this series, the focus is on the was on the North American continent. There is mention of the war being waged over in Europe, but no point of view from over there. The Japanese have been targeting the U.S. with hit and run attacks, but are quiet here. Mormons in Utah seem to have finally been subdued, and if there are still uprisings going on in Canada, Turtledove doesn’t mention them.
I’ll stop right here and say that if you haven’t invested the time in leading the ten other novels, or at least the other three in this series, there’s no point in reading this book. You’ll be totally lost and won’t comprehend much of the background of the characters until this point. Turtledove recounts some of each character’s history but has also done away with a lot of his repetitiveness, except for when he wants to drive a point home, such as the devastation to the Confederacy or the dearth of Negros through all the abandoned shanty-town across the land. There’s not a single mention of zinc oxide, either.
The focus here is on a race. The Confederacy is beaten, that was certain since the last novel, Settling Accounts: The Grapple. However, both countries, along with several over in Europe, are racing to build a terrible new weapon that will change warfare as they know it; a weapon that can wipe out entire cities.
Jake Featherston leads the Confederacy and tries to fend off the northern invaders long enough for those bombs to get built. He’s got a few things on the U.S.; rockets to launch bombs at them (although not that bomb) and new, sleek Barrels (what we call tanks), and anti-barrel weaponry. What the U.S. has is a lot more weapons, a lot more barrels, and above all else, a lot more men.
Settling Accounts: In At The Death follows many of the same characters who have been present throughout the novels. Characters such as Featherston, Clarence Potter, Jefferson Pinkard, Cassius, Jerry Dover, Jonathan Moss, Chester Martin, Leonard O’Doull, Michael Pound, Abner Dowling, Cincinnatus, Sam Carsten, George Enos Jr., Armstrong Grimes, and Flora Blackford all have their stories seem to wind down or conclude here. I say “seem to” because Turtledove leaves open plenty of room to continue the timeline into a Cold War-style stalemate across the globe.
While Turtledove is not above killing off major point-of-view characters, there’s not much of that in Settling Accounts: In At The Death. The characters who die are pretty much expected, although there are some hints at less than bright futures for others. I do believe this novel has the least amount of dying in terms of its characters.
There is plenty in the story that is familiar or has some grounding in actual history. For the U.S., General Morrell is waging a Sherman-style slice through Georgia.
Most of the bombs fell behind Potter, in the heart of Atlanta. As usual, the United States were going after the railroad yards and the factories that made the capital of Georgia so vital to the CSA. As far as Potter could tell, the latest bombardments were overkill. By now, Atlanta’s importance was gone with the wind.
That paragraph, at the beginning of Settling Accounts: In At The Death, will either bring a smile to your face or make you groan.
What there is in Settling Accounts: In At The Death is a good deal of violence. The North American continent has become a much more violent place than we are used to. Former Confederate citizens bristle under occupation and strike back at their occupiers in ways that seem to be ahead of their time. The occupiers retaliate harshly and decisively, creating what will probably be more generations of bad blood. The violence is there and not for the squeamish.
I was very satisfied with this conclusion to the story of what could have happened had things been a bit different. Although Turtledove leaves open the possibilities, even if he doesn’t continue the series he gives great fodder to the imagination of his readers who have followed him this far.
Book Review: Settling Accounts: In At The Death by Harry Turtledove-War is Hell, Occupation is Worse