RogerBW's Blog

The Dance of Time, David Drake and Eric Flint 04 May 2022

2006 alternate-history war story, last of six books. The Malwa have been pushed back but still hold their home territory; Belisarius and allies must finish the job.

This is really something of a revelation, after a series of books that increasingly descended into minor variations on "the bad guys lose a battle in spite of superior numbers because the good guys are smart". There is battle here, but there's much less emphasis on it: here at the end, what matters more is the people and their individual actions, and it's splendid to find authors who don't treat the end of a series as an excuse to escalate the scale even further.

The foreshadowed rebellion happens. The bad guys fail basically because they are bad guys, because they don't realise that trying to rule their underlings with fear has its limits when they want those underlings to be competent thinking people.

And Belisarius, who began the series as something of a superman, is tied up at the end holding down an army that's not a significant piece on the board (though it could be if it could move elsewhere); he's not in at the kill of the Malwa emperor and the empire's time-travelling master. I think one could reasonably infer from this series a suggestion that no matter how amazing one person may be, one person with reliable subordinates and allies will be able to beat them.

There's a section looking into the future, as the conflict between the two time-travelling factions also gets resolved – but it feels a bit superfluous. These aren't the people we've been following for six books, they're just the excuse for the alternate history, and while it provides some closure to Belisarius himself it doesn't feel of a piece with the rest of the book.

Yes, all right, all arranged and political marriages turn out to be happy ones, and all competent soldiers are also good people (though not necessarily the other way round, a step up from some mil-fic), but if you objected to those things you wouldn't have got this far in the series anyway.

Obviously this is not a place to start (there's a crib to the characters at the back, and maps of important places at the front, but there are still quite a lot of them to keep track of, and there are plenty of mid-chapter shifts in viewpoint), but it's a strong finish to the series after books 3-5 were rather less to my taste.

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Previous in series: The Tide of Victory | Series: Belisarius

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