-In the Balance
-Tilting the Balance
-Upsetting the Balance
-Striking the Balance
1942 – And the world is at war. (It’s not made clear exactly when the series takes place, but based on the text my guess is that the story starts just before the Battle of Midway.) America, Russia and Britain are at war against Germany, Italy and Japan. The war is spreading across the planet…and then the real enemy arrives. The Race, an alien race of humanoid child-sized lizards, has arrived to claim Earth for the Empire. Yes, folks; its War of the Worlds meets World War Two.
Suddenly, humanity finds its control over its own world sorely threatened. The Lizards have landed across the world. Some areas are crushed quickly and brutally – China, for example – and others find themselves under savage attack. Through a complex and shifting number of viewpoint characters, we see the war as it rages across the surface of the entire planet. A German Panzer commander leads his men against hopeless odds. A British bomber crew struggle valiantly to survive in skies no longer owned by the human race. A Russian female pilot wages an airborne guerrilla war against the invaders. A Chinese woman struggles to find a new purpose in a world gone insane. And many – many – more. There are more characters in the story than I can reasonably list here.
The story itself tends to follow the characters rather than the overall war. (I sometimes found this irritating.) Turtledove’s characters grow and develop. The German Panzer commander eventually finds himself questioning the very basis of the Third Reich and committing what some would see as treason against his masters. The Chinese woman, introduced to us as little more than a peasant, grows into a communist leader and a solid core of resistance to the aliens. And don’t get too attached to any of the characters either. Some of them, including the ones you least suspect, get killed off in the course of the story. Others end up where you would least expect – and this is true of the Lizards too. They are much more than simple one-D invaders.
The Lizards also force forward human science. The race to make the atomic bomb is pushed into high gear by the alien nukes – they nuke Berlin and Washington in the opening days of the book – and all of the major powers are struggling to make their own nuclear weapons. Turtledove does use a lucky moment in the story to get some of the ‘explosive-metal’ into the hands of human nations, but it generally works. That said, I am not convinced that developing a weapon would occur as quickly as Turtledove portrays it. Building the first nukes was a complicated process even in untouched and staggeringly wealthy America. Could the feat be repeated while the country was being invaded by the Lizards? Other developments include rockets, jet engines, radars and much else besides.
Having praised the series to the skies, I do have some issues with it. The first problem is that it tends to run on too long. A few fewer viewpoint characters might have led to a tighter story. (Sometimes, Turtledove slips into narrator mode and narrates on the character’s flaws and blind spots, which is more than a little irritating.) A second problem is that it’s hard to see just what is going on with the overall war. A third problem lies in the Lizard technology. They’re not as advanced as they should be.
Overall, these books are well worth a read.
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Chris Nuttall blogs at The Chrishanger. His books can be found on Amazon Kindle.