Friday, September 30, 2011

Opening Atlantis

Harry Turtledove is considered the master of alternate history stories and Opening Atlantis is one of his more novel ideas.

The book is really 3 stories about the founding, settling and progression of a large, unsettled land mass called Atlantis by one of the original settlers, after the legendary civilisation. It's a rather interesting take on the Atlantis legend, and Turtledove has followed the school of thought that if the land mass were to be real it would be located in the Atlantic Ocean, rather than the Mediterranean Sea.

The first of the stories; New Hastings (they're all named after parts of Atlantis), covers the first Europeans to discover 'Atlantis, Frenchman Francois Kersauzon and English fisherman Edward Radcliffe, and their efforts to live free, and tame the strange island of Atlantis with it's unique wildlife and varied climate. While the settlers try to explore and make a living on the wild island events outside Atlantis continue on as they always have. Upheaval in England (the War of the Roses) brings the Earl of Warwick Richard 'the Kingmaker' Neville to Atlantis. He's backed the wrong horse in the battle for the English throne, and consequently decides to set himself up as the King of Atlantis. He may have soldiers, money and ambition, but the Atlanteans have tasted life free of Lords and taxes, they're not about to give it up without a fight.

The second part; Avalon, takes place roughly 200 years after New Hastings, and concerns itself with two of Edward Radcliffe's descendants. The dread pirate lord Red Rodney Radcliffe, and his prosperous and proper cousin William Radcliff (his grandmother dropped the 'e', possibly in an effort to distance himself from the other branch of the family). The cousins are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and live at opposite ends of the island. Rodney preys on his cousin's ships and threatens his livelihood. William has had enough and with assistance provided by the British navy and a wealthy Dutch merchant, who is also tired of financing Rodney's lifestyle, he aims to destroy the pirate stronghold of Avalon. This particular section was a lot of fun. It was good, old fashioned, swashbuckling adventure in the style of Captain Blood and the more recent Pirates of the Carribbean.

The final third of Opening Atlantis; Nouveau Redon, reintroduced the Kersauzon family. In the years since Edward Radcliffe had founded New Hastings, the French, under the efforts of Francois Kersauzon had also set themselves up on Atlantis and prospered as much as the English settlements had. For reasons that I never felt were adequately explained Victor Radcliff took command of a combined English Atlantean and British force in an effort to drive the French Atlantean's, led by Francois Kersazon's descendant Roland, from the island. What followed was a tedious account of forces running from one part of the island to another, having a battle and then repeating the process throughout. I felt that Turtledove was using the story to recreate a European or American conflict on Atlantis and this was more about the battles than the characters. I never warmed to either Victor, who I found rather generic or Roland, who was too morose and fatalistic for my tastes. Of the two I preferred Roland, but that may have been because I knew he was the doomed underdog from the time the story began. The final part also paves the way for the next two Atlantis books, which from what I can tell are the author's attempt replay the War of Independence and the Civil War on Atlantis, rather than the United States.

In some ways the book was very reminiscent of James Michener's and Edward Rutherford's big family sagas covering specific areas, the main difference being that Atlantis is not a real place.

I enjoyed the first two thirds of Opening Atlantis, but the final part didn't do a lot for me. As Harry Turtledove seems to love revisiting American history (I've read other works covering the War of Independence and the Civil War with a twist) and haven't much enjoyed them, and seems to be intent on doing that with his Atlantis series I won't continue with the books, but the first two stories in Opening Atlantis are well worth reading just for their sheer entertainment value.

If anyone did want to continue on the next two volumes are called The United States of Atlantis and Liberating Atlantis.

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