WHAT I THOUGHT: Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale

WHAT IF the Roman Empire didn’t fall apart? What if the Roman Empire conquered much of the known world and eventually sent a legion to the North American continent? This is the premise for debut novel CLASH OF EAGLES by Alan Smale. Alternate history is my favorite. Not solely because of a few Robert Conroy and Harry Turtledove books either. Instead, I’ve always wondered the “what ifs,” and how minute, or large of a change they would have instituted. CLASH OF EAGLES certainly presents a plausible historical scenario.

The story picks up right where it needs to. We bypass the long voyage across the Atlanticus, the first stumbling sentiments of the XXXIII Fighting Hesperian legion and instead the story begins with the legion already weeks into their journey. Low on food, attacked by fierce Iroqua Indians and troops on the verge of mutiny. The main character Praetor Marcillenus navigates his legion masterfully through the world, but two chapters in they face a more sturdy enemy in the form of the Cahokian Indians.

It’s a massacre.

Now, let me say this: Smale’s writing is masterful. He could have went heavy on the prose, but his battle scenes are clear and concise. That being said, I’m sad that “Romans in North America” becomes “Roman in North America” after the second chapter. I was excited to see the legion itself falter, or change, as necessary to survive in the climate of a mostly undisturbed North American continent. This isn’t even a heavy spoiler, as this description is on the book cover of the book.

That aside, Marcillenus’ transformation from a full fledged Roman into a member of the Cahokian tribe is detailed and believable. You get to see Marcillenus change, grow and adapt as he realizes that he must adhere to and befriend the very enemy he was once hunting. The other characters: Great Sun Man, Sintikala and a few others could have been fleshed out more, though this is attributed to Marcillenus’ lack of understanding of their culture.

There are additional battles—my favorite part, to be honest—in the book. Marcillenus, as a pseudo-member of the Cahokian tribe helps fight off and takes the fight to different Iroqua tribes. The ending left the road well paved for another Roman incursion, and I guarantee you Marcillenus will have a difficult decision to make in the interim.

The book was a damned good read. It left me wanting to know more about the 700 years in between when the Roman Empire fell in real life (476 AD, though I think Smale’s point of divergence is somewhere in the 200’s) and when the Hesperian Legion was sent to North America. I’m sure when other Roman legions finally show up on Cahokia’s doorstep, we’ll get another history lesson.

Bonne journée, mes amis.

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