Harry Turtledove is probably best known for his long running alternate history series (Worldwar/Colonization, Southern Victory, The War That Came Early, etc.), but I have always been a bigger fan of his stand alone works. So I was happy to get a chance to read The House of Daniel, a fantasy story about baseball set during the Great Depression. Lets take a look at what I ultimately thought about it.
The House of Daniel is told from the perspective of Jack Spivey. He is from Enid, Oklahoma and like a lot of Americans in the 1930s, he is just trying to get by now that the “Big Bubble” popped in 1920. When he is not playing semipro baseball for the town team or doing the odd job, he works for Big Stu, the local crime boss. When Big Stu orders Jack to go beat up the brother of someone who owes him money Jack discovers the guy didn’t have a brother, but he did have a sister.
Unable to hurt a woman, Jack warns her of Big Stu and tells her to get out of town. Knowing that he will also be on Big Stu’s enemy list now, Jack talks his way onto the House of Daniel (based on the real House of David), a barnstorming baseball team known for their long hair and beards and for being one of the best semipro teams in the country. Thus begins a road trip across the western United States where Jack breaks out of his small town ignorance and learn a thing or two about himself in the process.
O yeah…he will also confront commie vampires, survive a zombie riot and meet a Sasquatch who really likes waffles. Did I mention this is a fantasy? Well it is. There are wizards, elementals, flying carpets and host of other magical creatures. I liked how Turtledove occasionally worked in local legends such as chupacabras near the Mexican border and shiny white discs that fly around Roswell (heh). There were werewolves as well, but they acted more like the traditional horror werewolves that only transformed when the full moon was out.
That all being said, the fantasy is actually rather light in this book. You can read dozens of pages without running into a bit of magic. In that respect it reminded me a lot of the Videssos series, which is a fantasy series by Turtledove set in an empire very similar to the Byzantine Empire. So its perfect fine for me, but hardcore fantasy fans may be left wanting more.
If you are a baseball fan, however, this is the book for you. You can tell that Turtledove knows as much about baseball as he does Byzantine history. A lot of the slang went over my head and since Turtledove rarely used real world names for players or teams, I didn’t get a lot of the references. I still found the road life of a barnstorming baseball team to be interesting and even casual baseball fans, like myself, may feel inspired to learn more about an era of sports history that has largely been forgotten…or at the very least it will make you want to catch a game.
So I can say with certainty that I enjoyed The House of Daniel. It is a road trip story, where the main character goes on a long journey, runs into some colorful characters and has a few adventures. At first I thought that the semipro tournament in Denver that the House of Daniel was travelling to would be the climax, but there is more story after it, which is a lot like life.
If I had one issue it was that it was a little light on the alternate history. You would think that the world would not look so similar to our own with all of these fantasy beings running around. For example, zombies are used for a lot of menial labor and have been in America since the first Africans were brought over as slaves. You would think that would mean that slavery would have ended earlier once people started mass producing cheap zombies. Instead there are references to the “States War” and blacks are still segregated and subjected to racism as if they only gained their freedom recently. I would have liked to see a little more effort put into the world building when it came to things like that.
Nevertheless, I do still recommend The House of Daniel. Turtledove continues to be one of my favorite authors and this may be a good book to start with if you haven’t read anything by him yet. Check it out if you get the chance.