Harry Turtledove has been one of the standouts in the fantasy field for at least 25 years now, and his new book, “The House of Daniel,” proves that he still knows how to spin a story. The book follows the troubles of Jack Spivey, a down and out semi-pro baseball player, trying to hang a little bit of a life together in Enid, Oklahoma, during the Great Depression. Turtledove, always the master of alternate history scenarios, gives us an America where magic is real. This isn’t the magic of fairy tales and happily ever after, though. Magic is just another fact of life. Turtledove does a great job of illustrating this through the small details of the book. Zombies are used for manual labor, making times harder for down and out blue-collar men, like Spivey. In one tiny, but memorable scene, a bus has to stop and wait for a crashed magic carpet.
The narrative is told in the first person, from the point of view of Jack, and one of the few drawbacks to the book is that some readers may be turned off by Jack’s voice. Turtledove clearly nails many of the historical details, and the speech is one area that is historically accurate. However, this means that Jack uses some language that some readers may find offensive, particularly around race. This is not a book that uses a lot of swearing or foul language to get the tone across, but especially for younger teens, parents may want to preview the book first.
This book is clearly directed to a historically-educated or at least historically aware audience, who will get some of the sly jokes and references, and appreciate the amount of research done by the author, without being hit over the head by it. That said, it is also a book that is directed at a fantasy novel audience, and the author uses some inside baseball from this world as well. I don’t know how large that contingency of readers is, but as one of a (maybe small) cohort, I would strongly recommend this book to similar readers. The story keeps the reader moving along, and readers outside of this narrow ideal audience will also enjoy the book. Despite the fact that there are “Easter eggs” for an ideal audience, they don’t distract from the story. The release of this book certainly shows timing, because this is a great book for a summer read. Interesting and complex enough to keep the reader engaged, but with a rip-roaring narrative that lets you lounge all day by the pool, immersed in Jack’s world, and dreaming about summers on the baseball diamond.
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