Clash of Eagles – Clash of Eagles #1 – Alan Smale
Release date: March 17th, 2015
Publisher: Del Rey
Age Group: Adult
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
It’s The Last of the Mohicans meets HBO’s Rome in this exciting and inventive debut novel from Sidewise Award-winner Alan Smale that will thrill fans of alternate history, historical fiction, and military fiction.
In a world where the Roman Empire never fell, a legion under the command of general Gaius Marcellinus invades the newly-discovered North American continent. But Marcellinus and his troops have woefully underestimated the fighting prowess of the Native American inhabitants. When Gaius is caught behind enemy lines and spared, he must reevaluate his allegiances and find a new place in this strange land.
The first thing that caught my eye when I scrolled through the available books on NetGalley was the cover. It is a fierce, very sharp cover that hints at an action-filled story centered on the Roman Empire. Historical Fiction is my second favourite genre next to SFF and I simply couldn’t resist. The story wasn’t anything like I had expected it to be, though it was action-packed and had something to do with the Romans. ‘Clash of Eagles’ was an interesting spin on Roman conquest and puts the spotlight on a lesser known civilisation on the American continent.
Smale tells the story of a thriving Roman Empire that sets out to conquer the Americas. It is rumoured that in this New World, there is gold aplenty and who can withstand the call of cities build from gold, right? Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and his legion of soldiers set out to find this fabled city and bring back gold, fame and glory to their home country. To get to this city they need to travel far through uncharted territory, in a climate they aren’t used to and in circumstances their army isn’t trained for. Soon, their dream bubble is burst and they find themselves on unfamiliar territory surrounded by what they might see as savages.
Through a series of unfortunate events (for the Romans), Gaius ends up alone with one of the native tribes: the Cahokians. At first there is a lot of distrust between him and the Cahokians but slowly he learns more about these people and this foreign land and with every day going by his respect for them grows. Not only are they incredibly resourceful, they are also a kind people that ultimately, though at first reluctantly welcome Gaius in their midst.
I didn’t particularly like the main character, Praetor Gaius Marcellinus. He’s very determined to learn these people the Roman ways, but sometimes this was, in my opinion, very demeaning towards the people he’s now living with. Some of the improvements he brings to their civilisation are useful, especially with the threats they are facing, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the Cahokians from time to time. It’s a bit sad this guy has to teach them how to live their lives and how to go to war or organize their defences, while they have shown before that they are very capable of finding solutions and defending themselves.
Sadly, Gaius was the only character where we got an in-depth view into his feelings, his evolution throughout the story and his person. I would have liked to get a bit more of that from the other characters in the book, certainly because at first glance they are very interesting people.
I was, however, pleasantly surprised we learned a lot about a new civilisation and that the focus wasn’t on the Roman Empire itself. If you know me a little bit, you’ll know that I went online and researched a bit. I was quite surprised to find that the location described actually exists and the spin the author gave to the mysteries about the place and the people that lived there was great and very imaginative.
Readers that were expecting strategic fights, blood and gore won’t be disappointed either, because there is enough of that going on in the book. These fights get the adrenaline pumping again after the pace in the book has slowed down a bit and make for a great dynamic in the story. Like I hinted at with the ‘strategic fights’, there’s a lot of talk about strategy, which was right up my alley.
All in all, ‘Clash of Eagles’ was a very entertaining book that give a twist to our history and an explanation to one of our unsolved mysteries. Action-packed, imaginative, well written and quite fresh, though with a few minor hick-ups, this book kept me flipping the pages. I am curious to find out what we will discover in the two books following this one that will explore this alternate history further.