Matthew's Reviews > An Oblique Approach

An Oblique Approach by David Drake
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's review
Mar 05, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: historical, fantasy, eric-flint, david-drake, alternate-history
Recommended for: Fans of 1632 or S.M. Stirling's alt-history works
I own a copy

** spoiler alert ** I'm going to let this review cover my thoughts on the series as a whole, just so I can sum up my thoughts on it in one place.

Let's begin with the pros. It's a fun series, above all else. Sometimes it really is fun to watch unambiguously good people beating the crap out of unambiguously evil people. Real life is complicated, so it's somewhat cathartic, to my mind, to be able to experience a less complicated world. Yes, it's not realistic, but if I wanted to be reading something realistic, I'd be reading literary fiction. Also, it's fun for a history major like myself to think about this kind of interactions between Constantinople, Persia, Axum, and India, particularly when I'm taking a class/writing a thesis on Byzantine history.
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And now for the cons, because there are a few that prevented me from giving this book (and series) five stars. For all that it's sort of cathartic to watch Our Intrepid Heroes kick ass and take names, the characterizations, particularly those of Belisarius, can get a bit smarmy and overblown. If you've read much of Flint's 1632-verse, you'll recognize the reverence that he has for Gustavus Adolphus (in fact, he gets a shout-out in one of the later books), which here is transferred to Belisarius. He, we are repeatedly informed, is TEH GR8EST GENERAL EVARRR. It's possible that Flint and I just have differing views on history, so we disagree on how to think of these historical figures. Still, it was a bit offputting.

Also in the area of "history major nitpicking", there's a bit of actual historical nitpicking. Particularly in India, there's a bit of anachronism. So, we have the Satavahana dynasty surviving for several centuries longer than historians would comfortably attest to. Pashtuns (F&D call them "Pathans", but that's essentially a different name for the same thing) appearing, fully formed, many centuries before there is actual direct evidence for their existence*. The Rajput city of Ajmer, which also appears in the book, was not founded until the 600s. I'm not an expert on Indian history, so it's entirely possible that I'm the incorrect one here.

But back to the characterization. One thing that bugged me was how perfect all of the arranged marriages were. A young Roman officer arranges to marry a young Persian noblewoman, and they're perfect for each other. The Emperor of Rome (not Justinian at this point) marries the daughter of a high-ranking Persian noble, and they're perfect for each other. The King of Axum marries a young Arab woman, and they're perfect for each other. Pretty much all of the arranged marriages we see on screen are perfect ones. This is more unrealism than my suspension of disbelief can handle.
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In the end, though, I enjoyed the series. It was fun, quick reading that resonated with my love of history. Don't take it too seriously, and you should have fun.

*Mostly it's that the evidence is conflicting and contradictory before about 1500. Pashtuns may have existed before then, but the textual evidence is thin.
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