War is hell and its chaos is a precarious foundation for supporting the sprawl of this epic fantasy. Paralleling the approach of his bestselling alternative histories, Turtledove (Guns of the South, the Worldwar series, etc.) imagines a civilization reminiscent of medieval Europe, save that sorcery is an accessible power harnessed for military use. In the land of Derlavai, armies tap the energy of ley lines for firepower, train dragons to drop incendiary eggs and commandeer leviathans for submarine warfare. Troubles begin when the armed forces of Algarve invade the kingdom of Forthweg to reclaim territories partitioned from them a generation before. Neighboring Unkerlant follows suit, occupying the remainder of Forthweg and competing with Algarve for control of the balkanized duchies drawn into the fray. Turtledove builds a panoramic narrative from the experiences of a cast of hundreds intended to represent a cross-section of Derlavian society, including inexperienced student Ealstan, sensible foreign minister Hajjaj, decadent marchioness Krasta, noble officer Rather, and Vanai, a descendant of the fallen Kaunian culture whose pervasive presence throughout Derlavai lends events an aura of fatalism. Cogently rendered scenes in which these and other characters display the extremes of cowardice and heroism induced by life during wartime give the novel a Tolstoyan sweep, yet never gel into anything resembling a cohesive plot. Dizzying shifts of viewpoint capture the convulsive character of combat but make allegiances hard to keep straight. Even the spectacular war scenes, described with frontline immediacy, become repetitive and generic. Like the casualties that crowd its pages, this novel sometimes seems a victim of overly complicated designs. Author tour. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999 Release date: 06/01/1999 Genre: Fiction
Mass Market Paperbound - 704 pages - 978-0-8125-7472-2
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