Hitler's War

by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by I.E. Lester

World War II is the most frequently visited time period for alternate history novels. A moment's thought brings together a number of authors, both sci-fi (Philip K. Dick) and mainstream (Len Deighton, Robert Harris), who've used the simple premise of a German victory to produce great novels.

Harry Turtledove though isn't going to do anything so cliched. He begins his tale before the outbreak of war in the 1930s, and changes two events and then imagines what would have happened if they'd played out differently.

One of these events will be widely known, the Munich Conference at which the British and French leaders agreed to Nazi Germany's annexation of the 
Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. (Turtledove has this conference fail causing war to start in 1938 rather than a year later over an invasion of Poland.)

The other though will probably not be familiar to anyone but history buffs. In 1936 Spanish General Jose Sanjurjo died when his plane crashed as he was returning from exile to lead the Nationalist cause in place of Francisco Franco. Here Sanjurjo is persuaded to leave his heavy baggage behind (believed to be a contributing factor in the plane crash), enabling him to take full part in the ongoing Spanish Civil War.

This is pretty intense stuff. For one thing Turtledove tells his tale from many perspectives, both high-ups and common soldiers, covering most of the nationalities involved in the continent wide fighting, and he does so with very little character building. This can lead to some confusion. It's difficult at times remembering what each of the characters is doing, where they are or even which side they're on. To give an indication of this here's a sampling of the novel's cast

- Sergei Yaroslavsky
- Chaim Weinberg
- Ludwig Rothe
- Hideki Fujita
- Vaclav Jezek

It's also fairly slow going. There are so many strands to this it takes a great number of pages to feel you've moved forward a single step in any one plotline. And one last gripe - there are parts of this that are only the 
history buffs amongst the readership are going to totally understand. (If I hadn't told you about Sanjurjo would you have known? I didn't. I had to look him up on Wikipedia.)

But for all the negatives listed this is still a good book. While it is far from his best work, Turtledove is a skilled writer and he brings the time period to life and gets you down with the dirty side of war without having to resort to overly descriptive gore. And he sets up a world that is just different enough to make things interesting - and, crucially I suppose, not to put you off reading the inevitable sequel (this does after all only take the action through to 1939).

Publisher - Del Rey
ISBN-13: 978-0345491831
528 pages

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