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American Empire: Blood and Iron coverAmerican Empire: Blood and Iron

By Harry Turtledove

Published by Del Rey Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

The Great War may be over, but it has resolved little. If anything, it has only sown new resentments, new hungers for vengeance.

In occupied Canada, a farmer's grief for his executed son has turned to abiding hatred, which he now nurses in a passion for assassination. His target -- General Custer, who in this strangely changed world is an aging but powerful military hero, even if his heroism is almost entirely the result of image management.

In the defeated Confederacy, tormented by rampant inflation, Jake Featherstone goes from minor rabblerouser to a serious candidate for the Confederate Presidency. The central planks of his Freedom Party platform include returning Negros to "their place" (in other words, legalized subjugation little better than slavery) and revenge against the wealthy political families who are perceived as having betrayed the Confederate cause.

And in the victorious United States, things are changing. Upton Sinclair (in our timeline the author of The Jungle, which led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration), has been elected to the Presidency, the first Socialist to hold that position. He has begun a campaign of reconciliation, but that does not mean that all agree with him. In fact, many believe that he is busily gutting all the gains won by US soldiers.

This is a dark alternate history, where the United States is no longer the City on the Hill, the light of liberty for all the world. Instead, America has been embroiled in the same ugly power politics as Europe, bound by the very sorts of entangling alliances that George Washington warned against in his farewell address.

Although there are plenty of parallels with post-WWI Europe of our own world, Turtledove does not simply produce a cheap recasting of that period. For instance, although Jake Featherston bears many similarities to Adolf Hitler and the Freedom Party can be compared to the Nazis, one cannot simply go down the line of his followers and equate them with Goering, Hess, Himmler, etc.

This volume, originally intended to be the fourth volume of the Great War set, is now the first in a new trilogy, American Empire. We now can wonder where Turtledove will take this dark and unhappy timeline.

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Review posted March 14, 2002.

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