Collin Gee’s Atlantisch Crusaders tells an alternate history tale of World War II. Namely, it tells the story of an armistice in the west that leads to the formation of an Anglo-American volunteer unit in the Waffen-SS that joins Barbarossa. Now the reputation of World War II fiction, especially concerning those two letters, had me on very, very high alert. I was not going to give it any slack.
In literary terms, it was neither as bad or good as I feared. Historical war fiction isn’t really my cup of tea (I read this primarily because of the alternate history aspect and likely wouldn’t have if it had been a straight historical war novel with volunteers from another country), so I’m not the best judge. It’s not as bad as it could have been (the writing isn’t too bad) but it’s not also not as good as it could have been (the writing is dry and a little AAR-y). So if this was the story of a totally fictional war between Teutonia and Krasnovia without any other context or baggage, I’d have dismissed it as a “49 to 51%” book and left it at that.
But it isn’t. And alarm bell after alarm bell roared in my mind as I read this book. There’s a mention of the “unique comradeship that set the Waffen-SS apart from other forces” early on. Then they cross the border, and the words “hordes” and “human waves” are used to describe the Soviet counterattacks. To be slightly fair, the book does take place in 1941, when the skill gap between the two armies was at its height-but remember, no slack.
But then there’s the whitewashing. One of the first things the legion sees as it enters the USSR is the aftermath of a massacre-committed by Stalin’s security forces. Then there’s tale after tale of captured members of the Atlantisch Legion and their brutal, cruel fate at the hands of the Soviets. It’s not ahistorical, but the one-sidedness combined with the overall tone of the book made me uneasy, to say the least.
In contrast, it takes about 2/3s the length of the book before some of the SS volunteers finally commit an atrocity-and it’s one they’re quickly punished for, and one which many feel “uneasy” about. There’s the handwringing of “oh no, these war crimes are happening”, with the whole “Look, we’re the good noble warrior Waffen-SS, we’re not the murdering Totenkopfverbande-SS” dodge.
Even the nature of the battles the legion fights, with many spectacular affairs against Red Army regulars and their huge arrays of tanks and artillery, is both suspicious (being rear area security is more likely) and contributing to the “wehrabooism” of it all. It read like a western Cold War depiction of the Eastern Front-but it was written very recently. And the rest of the book is not good enough-not nearly good enough- to make up for the moral queasiness I felt with this.
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