Harry Turtledove returns to the world of fantasy with something that isn't- quite- alternative history.
"After the Downfall" tells the story of a German officer during the waning days of World War II. As the Russian hordes are about to assault his position he touches a magical stone (just go with it), and winds up transported into a fantasy realm.
Fans of the "Legion of Videssos" books will recognize the notion of a magical artifact in this world transporting someone into a magical world. It's not exactly an uncommon theme, and though Turtledove's used it before, I'm willing to let him slide on it this time.
The German officer, one Hasso Pemsel, a name so odd I find myself wondering if it's another of Turtledove's puns, arrives in this brave new world and falls in with a group of people who are the Aryan wet dream. Tall, athletic, blonde and utterly convinced they are better than their short, dark, swarthy neighbors who aren't really people, after all, and have no rights to exist beyond those the blondes give them.
Seeing what the blondes do to the darker folk makes Pemsel start to look at his own conscience. Remembering what the Russians did on the Eastern Front, he realizes that these are people, just ones that look quite different. Eventually he's given a choice of switching sides, and spends a great deal more time deciding what to do than he might've expected.
The story is a little more sex-filled than most of Turtledove's books. Unlike most people I don't have a problem with his depictions of sex (which tend to be less graphic than those of violence, and if you want to show the scope of human existence, you really do need both), but there do seem to be quite a few that come off as wish fulfillment. One doesn't want to think a Jewish writer would have a German WWII officer as a Gary Stu, but I do start to wonder at times.
Ignoring that, the story itself is quite good and sets itself up well for a sequel. It is, at the very least, more entertaining and original (well, in some ways, anyhow), than the Atlantis series Turtledove is working on nowadays. I look forward to seeing the next book and what he does with it!
It's been a little while, too long I think, since I've read one of Dr. Harry Turtledove's novels. With After the Downfall, I remedied that deficiency. After the Downfall, by Harry Turtledove feels somewhat familiar to an experienced reader of Turtledove's work. We have a fantasy world with unusual magic. We have a sympathetic Wehrmacht officer in the mold of Heinrich Jäger from the Worldwar series. We have some speculations on the nature … more