World War II alternate histories tend to follow the same formula. Usually they are set in a world where the Axis are victorious and may or may not have occupied Britain and/or the United States. Occasionally you will see something different, usually along the lines of the war itself being fought differently instead of focusing on the nightmare outcome I previously mentioned. A good example of this is Acts of War by James Young.
Now Acts of War is actually the second book of James’ The Usurper’s War series, however, since the events of Acts of War take place before the events of book one, “Pandora’s Memories” (which is actually a short story), this is one of the few instances where you don’t need to start with the first story in the series. That is good for me because I haven’t read “Pandora’s Memories” yet, but I may do so now that I’ve read Acts of War.
This novel is set in a world where Hitler is killed by a (un)lucky strike by a Royal Air Force bomber in 1940. Two years later, Germany has not invaded the Soviet Union and has instead focused on knocking Britain out of the war, which it finally succeeds in doing after a massive firebombing of London, complete with poison gas. A new British government sues for peace, but the Royal Family and many elements of military rebel after the new peace treaty stipulates that British must hand over all foreign fighters to the Germans on British soil. With a “Usurper” now on the throne, the rebel British try to rally the Commonwealth to keep the war going.
Meanwhile, Japan has had some pretty bad luck after their attack on the Soviets got them kicked off the continent. This disaster has taught them their lesson and with new technology from the Germans and bases ceded to them by the defeated British, the Japanese have decided now is their chance to finally strike at the Americans, but without the element of surprise they had in our timeline.
All of this is told from the point of view of mostly American soldiers (with a couple American civilians and Japanese officers thrown in) preparing to enter a war that most people know is coming, but really hope they can avoid, especially now that the British have been knocked out of the fight. Generally I enjoyed the story, finding it a nice change of pace from the usual grimdark Nazi-wanks that dominate alternate history. James’ strength as a writer was most apparent during the naval and aerial battle scenes. You can really see the research he put into these scenes.
Admittedly I found that some of the character development scenes were a touch too long. This isn’t bad, per se, because having complex characters is important and we don’t want to fall into the trap of what Karen Hellekson calls “battlefield fetishism”. That being said, sometimes I like detailed and exciting action scenes and that is what I was in the mood for when I sat down to read Acts of War. Again the scenes weren’t bad, but five or ten percent of their text could have been cut and I would have been happier.
Despite all that and a few typos, I still found James’ Acts of War to be enjoyable read that I can recommend to anyone looking for a good war alternate history. If you are interested in more of James’ work, check out his article, “Nagumo’s Missing Turkey: The Kido Butai’s ‘Third Strike’ at Pearl Harbor“, on Alternate History Weekly Update.