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Book Review

Book Cover

The Hesperian Trilogy
Book I - Clash of Eagles


Author: Alan Smale
Publisher: Titan Books
RRP: £7.99
ISBN: 978 1 783294 402 2
Publication Date: 20 March 2015

Novels depicting the ‘what ifs...’ of an alternative history are too numerous to count. Indeed most science fiction and fantasy stories could be considered as such. With the whole of recorded history to play with, Alan Smale has chosen to envision a history where the Roman Empire did not retreat and implode, under its social restrictions and military incursions, but continued to expand.

In Clash of Eagles (2015. 399 Pages) Smale has the Empire not only surviving, as a single entity, but successfully expanding north into the Scandinavian countries. From this meeting with the Norse, the Empire becomes aware of the existence of Nova Hesperia, which we know of as America. With an expensive empire to run, the emperor dispatches the 33rd Legion to take this new land of opportunity.

At the head of the legion, Praetor Gaius Marcellinus forges straight into the heart of the continent, unaware of how expansive the land is or how warlike its people can be. Harried by the Iroqua, the legion nevertheless pushes forward towards their goal, the city state of the mound-building Cahokiani. Their initial confrontation is both swift and terminal for the legion and only Marcellinus survives the battle, kept alive for his military knowledge.

Certain in the knowledge that another legion would eventually arrive, Marcellinus sets about turning the city-state into what he hopes will be a roman province, thereby negating the need to destroy the city. More immediately the continual war with the Iroqua is an ever present threat.

Smale has gone to great lengths to place his story into a historically accurate picture of America as it stood in 1218 AD. The mound cities actually existed and remain national parks to this day. Care has been given to the descriptions of the Legion and how they functioned, although by this date the empire was quickly disappearing into history.

For those readers who may be unaware of, or wish to extend their knowledge of, the period and players, the book has a map of how America would have looked at the time. At the rear of the book there are a number of appendixes which cover Cahokia and the Mississippian culture, a Cahokian calendar, notes on the military of the Roman Imperium in 1218 AD, a glossary and a list of further reading.

So, the structure is sound and even plausible, but what of the actual story? Personally, I thought the book was very slow to start, with time being given over to characters who would, to a man, be killed in the first battle, although I could understand why this was needed. I have always had a deep interest in imperial roman history, but many readers would not, so the first few chapters work as world building, introducing the reader not only to a very different America, but also the culture and structure of the roman army.

It also introduces the reader to the arrogance of a society which has successfully subdued its enemies for near on two thousand years, which adds to the shock when they are so easily beaten, by what they consider is a bunch of primitive heathens. To say how this catastrophe occurs would spoil one of Smale’s leaps of artistic imagination.

The bulk of the story happens post-capture, where Marcellinus tries to use his knowledge to help the city-state ward off its enemies whilst at the same time starting to form relationships with its peoples. In many ways it is a cautionary tale about reliance on technology, Marcellinus wants to arm the city-state with weapons of steel, but struggles to find a way of creating it, all the time unaware that he may be creating an arms race which will lead to more, not less, death and devastation.

Overall the book presents an imaginative and plausible alternative history, the characters are well drawn and fleshed out and there are enough battles to keep the story going at a good pace.


Charles Packer

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