S.M. Stirling
Under the Yoke (1989)
Reviewed: 1997-10-05

When we first met the Draka in Marching Through Georgia they were at war. Now the Race, this chilling people from an alternate history, enjoys the fruits of victory. Along with their African heartland almost all of Eurasia is theirs. Further expansion stopped by a nuclear stand-off with the American-led Alliance for Democracy, the Draka busy themselves with assimilating the great territories they conquered in the Eurasian War: enslaving the population, ousting the last resistance pockets, integrating the industry, and developing the land into plantations for Draka landholders.

We are witness to life in post-war Europe through the eyes of three protagonists: Marya Sokolowska, a former nun from Poland and now a serf in France. Tanya von Shrakenberg, Draka combat veteran and landholder of Château Retour Plantation in the Touraine Province. And Fred Kustaa, operative of the OSS, i.e. an American spy, on his clandestine mission in Europe. Stirling cleverly uses the complementing viewpoints of slave, master, and outsider to paint his picture of the Draka at home.

Marching Through Georgia left me with much more sympathy for the Draka than it should have. I fully expected Under the Yoke to resolve this ambiguous feeling but surprisingly it didn't. The Draka atrocities in Europe seem too distant, too abstract to fully register with the reader. Stirling tells us matter-of-factly about razed cities, the looting of cultural treasures, enslavement, and genocide. Still, most of the Draka we meet in person command respect rather than disgust, their handling of the serfs as human cattle being as impressive as repulsive. Unfortunately, as the novel progresses, it slowly degrades from an exposition of the rule of the Draka into a conventional spy story. An appendix on the economic and geographic makeup of the Domination concludes the book.

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