Book Review: Clash of Eagles

Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale, Hesparian Trilogy #1

Imagine a world where the Roman Empire never fell... In AD 1218, Praetor Gaius Marcellinus, commander of the 33rd Legion, invades Nova Hesperia, a land inhabited by Powhatani, Iroqua and Cahokiani. In search of gold, he and his men find only death. Marcellinus is taken prisoner, but his life is spared. To survive he must re-evaluate his allegiances and find a new place in a strange land.

So far in my Alternate History travels I have ventured to the old Romans, Brits and Vikings. But these were mostly stories contained in their own Empires. Alan Smale's Clash of Eagles is something different, it is an Alternate History story featuring Romans, but with a twist. This story is about a what if scenario. Imagine that the Roman Empire never fell. Imagine them making the trek across the ocean to discover the land that is now better known as America. Yes this is what happens in Clash of Eagles, when I read this on the cover of the book I was sold. How cool is that, the promise of Roman's invading the country of Native Americans. Every Alternate History fan should be reading this book!

The story of Clash of Eagles focuses on Praetor Gaius Marcellinus, who is the current commander of the 33rd legion and leading the invasion into America, what they are naming Nova Hesparia, on the East coast. Back in Rome an order was given to Marcellinus to venture to Nova Hesparia in search for wealth and fortune, the whisper of the gold that lies in the land have reached far! Not having struck tressure on the first step, Marcellinus decides to make his way through the lush jungles, with the help of captured natives to lead the way. As they steadily make their way through it, they encounter more and more troubles and hostilities along the way, hostilities that are put to a stop by the Roman might. But even the mighty fall. And one day when everything seems well, Marcellinus looses the upperhand in a battle against the natives, every last Roman soldier is murdered, but Marcellinus is spared. He is spared with a reason, the natives aren't stupid, they see that Marcellinus has great military expertise, expertise that they can use and so Marcellinus finds himself in the "care" of the Cahokiani tribe. Even though a lot of things had already happened prior to Marcellinus being taken capture, the real story kicks off from this point. Marcellinus only knowing how to speak Latin and the Cahokiani tribe only knowing how to speak their native language so the first thing to overcome is this barrier, and of course winning their trust as well. it goes easier with the children and takes more convincing of the older people, but luckily in the end - for Marcellinus' sake - it goes well. Only now it comes to show that there is one tribe in the neighborhood of of the Cahokiana's that want to get rid of them, the feared and ruthless Iroqua. It up to Marcellinus to train the Cahokiana's as best as possible for this inevitable encounter, however a more dangerous force has also taken to the scene, in a less direct way though, a force to which Marcellinus is much more acquainted to.... Yes.. I think you know what I am implying but still I won't say it. 

Alan Smale did a very good job in setting up the story. Often times with Alternate history it can be a heavy subject to broach but he approached it very clear. Really building the story from the ground up and up, letting the events follow each other logically up, like action reaction. It made the story easy to understand, easy to get into and enjoy to the fullest. By making a lot of scenes with Marcellinus discussing with the native Cahokiana's you learn a lot about the world, an added bonus choosing this way is that the information that you receive doesn't feel like an information dump but feels natural, as it should be and makes the story that much more enjoyable to read. 

The focus is as I said most on Marcellinus, as Alan Smale devotes a lot of screentime to his character, which does cost for the other secondary characters development in my opinion. Don't get me wrong I enjoyed reading about Marcellinus and his living together with the Cahokiana's was done in a very good way, from the language barrier to a lot of other things and how Marcellinus tried to put a touch of the Roman Empire on their civilization, with hygiene and forging weapons gave a very nice touch to his character, but by by devoting that time to his development the secondary characters, the Native tribespeople stayed behind, granted the children that you meet are wonderful to read about as well as some of the women of Marcellinus' age. But for me personally given those more voice of themselves, make them more personal, would have made the story that much better. 

Now where this book deserves a lot of praise is in the field of the battlescenes. WOW that is definitely cool stuff right there. I have come to learn from many Alternate History books that the action can get really tight when it comes to legionnaires fighting in formation but ALan Smale steps it up a notch, yes you have the full color battles of the Roman against the natives using diverse tactics, but added to this comes the guerrillia tactics that the natives used against the Romes. This isn't simply blow dart blowing to incapacitiate a few Romans, but they have their own way of fighting with man and women in the air unleashing a fiery reign upon the Romans and much much more. It is always with such battle scenes that I really want to see them being translated to the big screen, just like with the movie Gladiator with the fights this is gonna be epic. 

As I said before, Clash of Eagles is a must read for every Historical Fiction/ Alternate History fan. Even if you aren't this will get you fired up to read more of this genre for sure. Alan Smale has created a very interesting start in Clash of Eagles showing for me something completely new, letting the Roman take the forefront in discovering the new world, with all the problems associated with it. Gaius Marcellinus makes for a brilliant lead, he is convincing and becomes somewhat of a Robin Cruseo kind of guy, civilizing the jungle. This sound perhaps funny and actually it shouldn't as the setting is very dangerous in Clash of Eagles, with not only the native tribes that pose a threat. I am very eager to see where Alan Smale takes his story next!

 

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