What if British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had refused Hitler’s request to return the Sudetenland to Germany? That is the premise of Turtledove’s latest alternative history novel. From the Spanish Civil War, Japan’s occupation of China and intention to strike Russia, Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and French and British efforts to prevent the fall of that nation and others, to Russia’s bid to protect Poland as the Poles ally themselves with Hitler to protect their borders, the book unfolds between 1936 and 1939 from the perspectives of the men who fight and innocent civilians caught in the middle.
I’ve enjoyed several of Turtledove’s previous alternative history novels, but found this one disappointing. Chamberlain’s failure to kowtow to Hitler fails to create a story much different from how actual events unfolded, and only an aficionado of World War II will distinguish the differences. With thirteen major viewpoints, readers may have difficulty keeping track of who’s who, and the scenes aren’t long enough to truly get to know the characters. Throughout my reading, I felt as if I was kept at arm’s length from the events. The lack of time passage indicators makes it difficult to know when something happens, and repeated references to disappearing commanders under Stalin and Hitler, as well as watching what one says, becomes tedious. The various storylines are akin to a jigsaw puzzle in which I couldn’t fit the pieces together to make sense of them. Rather than enjoying the book, I felt as if I slogged through mud, and discovering that nothing is resolved at the story’s end only reinforced that sensation.