In this epic alternate-history story, the author considers a different future for an as-yet-unknown Native American people who lived in a great city on the banks of the Mississippi. Do a web search for Cahokian mounds, before you begin this story. In the real world, the people who built the enormous mounds in Illinois disappeared so long ago that there is no trace, either physical or in oral traditions, left of them. We enter the story in the 13th century…
Gaius Marcellinus is a Roman Praetor whose Legion was completely destroyed by the Cahokians in the first book, Clash of Eagles, click here for the review. Gaius’ Legion had been sent to Nova Hesperia (term for N. America) to find gold to fund the tremendous war against Genghis Khan. After being spared by the Cahokians for his value as an intelligence resource; he forged a relationship with them based on respect and affection. While he has sworn to never lead Cahokians in battle against Roma; he knows the day is coming when Roma, once more, lands on Hesperian shores. He would rather see his beloved Cahokians as equals to Roma than become its slaves. He hopes that by forging a true Hesperian alliance first between the Cahokians and their hereditary enemies, the Iroqua that Roma will see the advantage to having a continent of trading partners rather than a continent of slaves. But such an alliance is not to the liking of all and the bonds forged are delicate without years of building trust years they don’t have. And Roma is faster to respond to the loss of Gaius’ legion than he anticipated, leaving him little time to finish preparations.
When Roma does reappear on the shores of Hesperia, they are far to the southwest which is a tremendous surprise to Gaius, leaving him to wonder at the tactics. But legions advancing from the East are not far behind, and in a strength to also make him wonder at his Caesar’s intentions. But the true shock is the revelation that the Emperor of Rome himself has landed on Hesperia to lead the attack. The reason for the Emperor’s presence has dire or, perhaps, advantageous consequences for the Cahokians and their alliance.
Gaius is a rather ordinary man and soldier he is not a super-soldier, he is not incredibly clever or intelligent; he is just an ordinary man trying to make the best of a bad situation and protect those he loves. I am glad that he isn’t more than that; he is much more accessible as a character in this way. And while the native Cahokians have advanced technology they are just as vulnerable to predation and violence as any society. They are, also, ordinary people, with singular leaders who do the best they can; not always in keeping with the common man’s desires. Mobs seldom see something as what is best for them in the long run, but usually desire what is best for each of them now. And these people are no different. History is full of climactic events that occurred due to the brilliance of a good leader at the right time; in spite of the people’s wants and desires. So Gaius’ plans are not always received or even executed by the Cahokian leadership as he imagined. Nor does he seem to have the right words to sway the occupying Roman army to see the wisdom of his vision. He seems to be a lost soul in the center of an inevitable battle that will see both his new family and his fellow-legionnaires destroyed.
To protect his family he has to separate himself from Cahokia unable to touch or love Sintikala or his adopted daughter, Kimimela. He has to give to Caesar all the intelligence at his disposal; if he is useless to Caesar he’ll be killed and then be of no use at all to the Cahokians. But it isn’t until he is trusted with Caesar’s greatest secret that his allegiances are truly tested.
The plotting is superb and the palate of characters captivating. Even secondary characters have distinctive voices. As a visual reader, I would have preferred more detail for the setting but that’s really quibbling; the story totally captured my imagination. While not a fan of alternative histories, this one had a satisfactory balance between storytelling and worldbuilding. I am anticipating the next book even more than I did this one. ~~ Catherine Book
For more books by Alan Smale click here