Author: Harry Turtledove Title: "Through Darkest Europe" Series: None, standalone (for now, at least) Publication: September, 2018 Publisher's Synopsis: "From the modern master of alternate history and New York Times bestselling author Harry Turtledove, Through Darkest Europe envisions a world dominated by a prosperous and democratic Middle East--and under threat from the world's worst trouble spot. Senior investigator Khalid al-Zarzisi is a modern man, a product of the unsurpassed educational systems of North Africa and the Middle East. Liberal, tolerant, and above all rich, the countries and cultures of North Africa and the Middle East have dominated the globe for centuries, from the Far East to the young nations of the Sunset Lands. But one region has festered for decades: Europe, whose despots and monarchs can barely contain the simmering anger of their people. From Ireland to Scandinavia, Italy to Spain, European fundemantalists have carried out assassinations, hijackings, and bombings on their own soil and elsewhere. Extremist fundamentalist leaders have begun calling for a "crusade," an obscure term from the mists of European history. Now Khalid has been sent to Rome, ground zero of backwater discontent. He and his partner Dawud have been tasked with figuring out how to protect the tinpot Grand Duke, the impoverished Pope, and the overall status quo, before European instability starts overflowing into the First World." POD (found on pg. 18, so not using spoiler tags): St. Thomas Aquinas decides Aristotle and Christ cannot be reconciled and Christian Europe turns inward and awkward, while a century before him, al-Ghazali thinks Islam and Aristotle can get along just fine and the Middle East and North Africa prosper and progress. Setting: 20th century Italy TL;DR summary of the review: An interesting premise that quickly devolves into a meandering mess. Full Review: I picked up the book because once I read the synopsis I thought it'd be... interesting, if nothing else. I was wrong. It is not. Setting aside plausibility (for now), I want to focus on the main issue I had with the tale: it's boring and the heroes are passive and do not move the plot along until almost the end of the story. You would think a world where, for lack of a better term, Middle East and North Africa swapped with Europe would be a fertile ground for a good tale. Controversial perhaps. Perhaps even cringe inducting. Or at the very least odd. Instead we get two detectives from Tunis who show up in Rome, look about and comment about what is going on around them with dad-jokes and heavy social commentary to make us all realize we are all not that different from one another and "there for but the grace of..." The Disney message notwithstanding (and it is a good message, and I like it), once you get past the gee-whiz factor of the premise, you wait for the plot to kick in and it does, though no thanks to the two people who are supposed to be the protagonists. They just wander about and make more dad-jokes, do some '80s-movies cop-partners banter and ponder the meaning of it all. The first 100 pages breeze-by, but then you realize you are nearly a third of the way done with the book and our hero did not do anything except stand about and ponder humanity, geek out over Ancient Roman ruins and develop romantic feelings for a lovely lady. I would call the plot paint-by-the-numbers, but it's missing some colors and numbers. The investigation by the two detectives with wide ranging mandate from a foreign power in a backwater goes absolutely nowhere until the last twenty pages where the bad guys make a mistake a Lifetime TV movie villain with armpit sweat stained flannel shirt would make and the hero puts four and zero together to get four. The heroes also make plot based decisions making no otherwise sense, such as suddenly deciding to visit Florence, Turin and Milan just so things can happen to them there and on the way back. I am avoiding spoilers here, but will just say do not bother figuring out who are the hidden bad guys because it is not worth it. The denouement for most part happens off page and is the cinematic equivalent of a still shot of an Amity beach, with Hooper and Brody swimming to the shore and telling the locals they killed the shark, but Quint didn't make it and giving each other a high five. Plausibility is not a show-stopper for me, and even the most well crafted AH story requires some form of suspension of disbelief. And so I had no trouble with swapped North Africa and Italy, then a hard-nosed Roman religious fanatic show up and his name is Pacelli. Fine. It's a wink. Moving on. Puking college students who can't hold their liquor show up on the streets of Rome and they are from the Sunset Land republic of Arkansistan. Okay. Then Oregonis tourists from Seattle make a pit-stop. Whatever. Then Pavorotti shows up and the author tells us he has a fine tenor. Then we hear about a religious fanatic in Munich named Adolphus. And then striking propaganda poster appear, and they are drawn by a German religious fanatic artist named Mjolnir. Sigh. It's not quite Nixon selling used steam-cars, but it's there. Trouble is, they remind me how "The Two Georges" is a far superior work to "Through Darkest Europe." In there, we got more special guest-appearances, but at least they were fun. Here they are just dreary. The oddest thing about the tale, besides it not going anywhere and being boring, is how it is for the most part PG, but then someone drops a curse word or twelve and we get a PG-13 ("12" for the UK readers) sex scene. It feels oddly out of place given the rest of the soft-tone of the novel, despite the subject matter. You would think a world with religious violence, hatred, discrimination, assassinations, bombings and war would not feel or read soft, but it does and that too may be part of the problem. It is not adult. It feels childish. If I didn't know better, then I'd say it's a lesser YA novel. In conclusion: the premise seems neat, but nothing happens. And that's disappointing.