No Less than Victory
© 2009 Jeff Shaara
This was released only a month ago, and completes Shaara’s WW2-Europe trilogy, the previous titles being The Rising Tide and The Steel Wave. The books are historical fiction, although most characters — perhaps all in this book — are historical personalities. Shaara borrows from his father’s style in writing the book in a way that depicts the soldiers’ and generals’ reactions to the war as it develops around them: sentences are often styled to convey the thoughts of each chapter’s viewpoint character. Eisenhower and Patton have been viewpoint characters throughout the whole of the series, but they are the only two carry-overs: grunt soldier George Benson joins the cast on the American side to give readers both an overview of the war (the generals’ chapters often serve as exposition and move the plot along) and the soldiers’ view on the ground. As is typical of Shaara, viewpoint characters are drawn from both sides of the conflict, and at least two German officials make their prescense known throughout the book. An elderly German general who is expected to take the blame for the Wehrmacht’s defeat in the west serves the same function as Rommel in previous books, — giving the reader a “good” German who loves his country and is frustrated by Hitler’s refusal to listen to reason, — while Albert Speer serves as the reader’s eyes into late-war German government given his role as one of Hitler’s familiars.
The book opens in December 1942: in the past sixth months, the Allies have liberated most of France, but have slown down to a near-stop as winter visits Europe. Rather than sit and twiddle its thumbs all winter while American and British bombers continue to bomb them, the Wehrmacht launches a counteroffensive against American lines, resulting in what history will call the Battle of the Bulge. This conflict consumes over half the book, since it is the last gasp of German military capability. The book’s plot is much slower in the first half of the book, and varies from chapter to chapter depending on the viewpoint character: soldiers experience plot minute by minute, while months can pass by during a general’s chapter rather quickly. Shaara’s books are expressly about American history, drawing as they do from American sources, so readers hoping to visit the eastern front will be disappointed. Narrative flows more slowly than it might in say, Harry Turtledove’s works, but it doesn’t bog down too much — and it picks up swiftly after the book’s halfway point, when American troops begin marching into Germany proper and seeing the ravages of war.
Shaara sometimes seems present in the book. Unlike Steven Saylor, he doesn’t mention to the readers what his sources were, or how extensively he drew from them, so — except in the case of Albert Speer, whose work I am familiar with — I do not know which of the characters’ opinions belonged to their historical personalities or which belong to Shaara. At one point, Winston Churchill pays Eisenhower a visit and gripes about the Yalta Conference: England was largely ignored, to his believable annoyance, but what really gets Winnie’s goat is that Roosevelt wrote Poland off. It’s difficult for me to believe Churchill cared for the people of Poland, although in a more cynical light I can easily believe in his being outraged at Russia growing in strength. Interestingly, Shaara’s characters often compare and contrast Allied and Nazi morality, particularly after Dresden but before the discovery of concentration camps. While Shaara’s narrative isn’t too romantic, it’s definitely friendly to warm and gushy patriotism. Perhaps that’s appropriate: the reader must decide.
No Less than Victory is definitely a fair read. I enjoyed it as much as I’ve enjoyed Shaara’s other works, and I suspect those interested in American military history would eat it up. I read the book mostly out of loyalty to Shaara: I’ve been reading him since high school, and it would seem strange to stop, particularly in the middle of a series. I understand he’s planning on writing about the end of the war in the Pacific.