cover image Darkness Descending

Darkness Descending

Harry Turtledove. Tor Books, $27.95 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86915-1

Trust Turtledove to deliver plenty of grungy military action spiked with dollops of sex and a keen and accurate depiction of the realties of warfare. The sequel to his alternate history Into the Darkness is anything but easy going. Based on the horrors of the Eastern Front, where the Soviet Red Army fought to repel the Nazi invasion, the novel suffers from Turtledove's tendency to use names of one ethnic flavor to represent analogous characters of a totally different national group. For example, the Algarvians, the militant aggressors who closely resemble Nazis, bear Italian-sounding names and fight under a red, green and white flag. Given that there are 12 nations involved in this mortal conflict, and a cast of approximately 150 characters, this gets incredibly frustrating, especially since Turtledove abruptly shifts from site to site and employs magic in place of mid-20th-century technology (dragons as fighter aircraft, leviathans as submarines). When the Algarvians round up helpless Kaunians into ""victory camps"" where they will eventually be slaughtered for the vital energy needed to smite the Soviet-style enemies, the Unkerlanters, these foes retaliate by massacring their own peasantry to draw more energy themselves. This barbaric ante-raising causes the civilized, British-like Lagoans to observe that everyone involved will develop ever-increasing monsterlike strength before this world war comes to an end. Turtledove personalizes the conflict through 15 ""viewpoint characters""(so-called in his extensive Dramatis Personae), including the gallant Algarvian dragonflier Colonel Sabrino; the elegant, conniving Kresta; and young lovers Vanai, a hunted Kaunian, and Ealstan, a decent bookkeeper. Everyone is brought to the brink of a Pearl Harbor-like entry by a slow-to-activate world power, leaving all--including Turtledove's readers--to slog through a lot more territory in likely future installments. (Apr.)