“January 1864--General Robert E. Lee faces defeat. The Army of Northern Virginia is ragged and ill-equipped. Gettysburg has broken the back of the Confederacy and decimated its manpower.Then, Andries Rhoodie, a strange man with an unplaceable accent, approaches Lee with an extraordinary offer. Rhoodie demonstrates an amazing rifle: Its rate of fire is incredible, it's lethal efficiency breathtaking--and Rhoodie guarantees unlimited quantities to the Confederates.The name of the weapon is the AK-47....”
My Review - Rating - 3.5/10
Guns of the South is a well-paced, well-written alternate history book, but it is ruined by some harmful narratives and poor plot choices. I read this book because I heard great things about the author and somewhat enjoyed the WorldWar series, but I regret that now. Turtledove didn’t do anything wrong on a technical level - the dialogue of the characters, descriptions of locations and battles, and portrayal of differences and conflicts between southern leaders were all excellent. However, I was disappointed in the “action” of the book and the book’s portrayal of the Confederacy. First, there aren't a whole lot of battles, and those that do occur are extremely one-sided. There’s no chance the confederacy will lose in any of them, and while that’s accurate when you consider the weapons they had, it isn’t interesting for the reader to see the North get demolished in one battle after another. Furthermore, the book uses parts of the “lost cause” narrative of the civil war- that is, seeing the South’s fight as one over states’ rights, not slavery (it wasn’t) and seeing General Lee as a benevolent figure (he wasn’t). The book (massive spoilers, skip the next sentence if you are considering reading it) has Lee and the South, after defeating the north, realize that slavery is bad and quickly free the slaves. This would have never occurred in real life, which doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing in a fictional book; the problem is that Lee is the protagonist, who is portrayed as anti-slavery and racially tolerant, and the South is portrayed as more concerned with individual freedoms than slavery, which is why they abolish it and stay separate from the Union. I recognize that this is a fiction book, but it is supposed to be (at least loosely) based on history, and this is incorrect in that regard. General Lee was a massive racist and slaveowner, and the Confederacy was formed primarily to ensure the continuation of slavery. The lost cause tropes portrayed in this book are massive historical inaccuracies that a large percentage of the population believes, and this book obviously isn’t responsible for that, but it still perpetuates an inaccurate and harmful lie. Beyond the moral problems with this book, I think the author missed a great opportunity, in that he could have looked deeper into the quality versus quantity in the actual war. The Union had an overwhelming economic and numbers advantage as compared to the Confederacy in real life and had the author had chosen to look at what could have happened if the south had AK-47s in a limited supply, and they were pitted against the might of the northern economy, the book might have been less boring and one-sided. That’s just a suggestion for something I found annoying, however.Overall, The Guns of the South is a total disappointment for me. I read it purely because I enjoyed the WorldWar series, and my hopes that Turtledove’s other work was of a similar caliber. Sadly, this book is a low-stakes, unengaging story more focused on portraying General Lee in a good light than creating an interesting story.
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