Saturday, March 2, 2013

In High Places by Harry Turtledove

This is the third book in the six-volume Crosstime Traffic science-fiction series for young adults.  Set in the late 21st century, the series revolves around a company called Crosstime Traffic, which has discovered the ability to travel to alternate earth's that have experienced different histories.  For instance, in some alternate timelines Germany has won World War I, the United States never came to be, the Soviet Union triumphed in the Cold War or the Roman Empire never existed.  The role of Crosstime Traffic employees is to travel to these alternate worlds to engage in trade, while pretending to be from the world that they are visiting.

Each novel in the series is a standalone story with unique characters and plot lines.  It is therefore not necessary to read the series sequentially, as the books only share the general context that lies behind each story.  As such, I did not read this collection in order, but rather jumped around from book to book (see previous reviews here, here, here and here).  Overall, I found the series to be mixed, with some books being good and others so-so.

Fortunately, this novel is the best of the five books that I have read to date. The story takes place in an alternate world where 80 per cent of Europe's population was killed by the Black Death, the industrial revolution never took place, slavery is widely accepted, and Spain and southern France are occupied by Muslims.  It also has a different form of Christianity, in which a second son of God named Henri who came after Jesus is worshipped.

The books sets up an intriguing story when a Crosstime Traffic employee is captured by bandits and then sold into slavery.  To her surprise, her new masters turn out to be rogue Crosstime employees who are running an illegal slave operation in another alternate world, and who are unaware that one of their slaves works for Crosstime.  This clever story captured my imagination, as did the book's intelligent discussion on the relationship between Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  In short, an excellent  book that is worth reading.

4 out of 5 stars