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March 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Advance and Retreat by Harry Turtledove
Baen Books Hardcover; ISBN: 0743435761 PubDate Dec 02
Review by Rob Archer
400 pages List price $27.00
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Harry Turtledove has consistently delved into our past and used historical incidents to form the framework that he then spins wonderful stories around. Advance and Retreat is his newest book to fit into this category. Perhaps more faithful to real life events than some of his past works, this story continues the tale from Marching Through Peachtree and tells the story of John Bell Hood, er that is, General Bell and his attempt to push back the occupying forces in the Northern provinces.

This story is set in a world that seems to be a mirror image of the events of 1864. It involves the Southern grey clad loyalists fighting to keep the liege lords of the Northern provinces from creating a separate kingdom where they can continue to work the blond serfs that live on their land. The Southern army under Doubting George is working to contain General Bell as he hopes to push them back into the South and staunch the flow of events.

As usual, one of the joys that Turtledove brings to the story is the ability to bring the characters to life. While there aren't many completely sympathetic characters you are able to get inside and understand what drives each of the individuals. I appreciated that everybody seemed to have their flaws as it made them appear all the more real instead of playing generic parts. As in many of the author's other works, I especially enjoyed the large cast of characters and the manner in which many of them cross each other's paths.

Personally I found it better at most times to put the parallels to our history out of my mind and just enjoy the story for what it was. Those with a deep understanding of the events in the "western" theatre of the Civil War might really enjoy viewing the book through that context, but it can just as easily be followed by those of us without too much knowledge of how things went in the "real" world. Even putting aside actual events, there are many numerous aliases used for historical figures and locations. Two of my favorites were the province of "Peterpaulandia" for Maryland and "Barre" the actor ranting against tyrants - a nod to John Wilkes Booth's "Sic Semper Tyrannis".

Not having read the two earlier books in the series I may have come in too late to appreciate some of the character relationships that were already developed but that didn't take away from any of the enjoyment of the book. As is his wont (sometimes to an unnecessary degree), Turtledove repeats enough plot points and character personality traits that you are quickly up to speed.

The book finishes with an entertaining and humorous historical note similar to the one following Turtledove's Ruled Britannia. With tongue in cheek the author begins by professing that the book was in no way, shape or form based on actual events and people. He then proceeds to recount Civil War actions that bare a striking resemblance to those depicted in the book. I really liked this touch, and it is one I'd like to see repeated. It was nice to have a well-written account of actual historical proceedings with a little flair as opposed to the dry facts sometimes tacked onto the end or beginnings of many Alternate Histories.

Advance and Retreat is a novel that can be either read on its own, or as the conclusion of the War Between the Provinces trilogy. Those who have read the previous two works will hit the ground running with this one, but it also succeeds as a stand-alone story as the author does provide enough background throughout the early portions of the book. Having enjoyed this novel, I'm inspired now go back and catch up on the earlier adventures that set the stage for the story told so skillfully in Advance and Retreat.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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