Review of ADVANCE AND RETREAT by Harry Turtledove
THE WAR BETWEEN THE PROVINCES
BAEN, December 2002
The war between the provinces is going badly for the north, with the breakaway provinces devastated by years of war and by the greater industrial power of the south. Northern commander Bell conceives of a daring ploy--with southern general Hesmucet's soldiers rampaging through the north, Bell decides to counter-attack. To invade Tennessee--uh, Franklin--and take the war to the South. With the assistance of capable unicorn commander Ned of the Forest, Bell has a chance and he's certainly always been a general willing to take the battle to the enemy.
Author Harry Turtledove (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by this author) delivers alternate history using a variety of viewpoint characters including common soldiers, junior officers, and senior generals to deliver the shades of gray that every war involves. In ADVANCE AND RETREAT, even more than in the earlier novels in this series (see our reviews of SENTRY PEAK and MARCHING THROUGH PEACHTREE), this formula works. The reader is dragged into the battle, into the emotional entanglement between Captain Gremio and Sergeant Thisbe, the growth of blond Corporal Rollant, and even the laudanum-soaked Lieutenant General Bell.
The western front of the U.S. civil war can certainly claim to be the deciding theater, but it lacks the romance of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and is, therefore, less studied than the Virginia battlefields. Turtledove's fantasy retelling (reversing compass directions, making the disenfranchised group blond serfs rather than black slaves, with unicorns rather than cavalry and nobility rather than democratically elected leaders and renaming cities and battlefields (Nashville becomes Ramblertown--cute) brings this critical piece of history into a new light--and a light that allows the reader to strip away the emotional entanglements that still surround the U.S. Civil War and develop new emotional weight based on the power of Turtledove's writing.
This is the best Turtledove I've read in a long time.
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