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Clash of Eagles (The Clash of Eagles Trilogy) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 17, 2015
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“Clash of Eagles is that rarest and best of alternative histories: the one you believe, the one that makes sense. Alan Smale has a storyteller’s flair for character, and presents an ensemble cast with a depth of detail of which George R. R. Martin would approve. Clash of Eagles is a triple threat: It works as a novel, as historical speculation, and as cultural extrapolation. But its real value is singular: It’s a ripping good yarn, and one that will keep you reading long past your bedtime.”—Myke Cole, award-winning author of the Shadow Ops series
“Just when it seems there is nothing new in [alternate] history comes this debut.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“An intriguingly original alternate history.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[Alan Smale] breathes life into the New World civilizations and offers up a compelling view of what might have happened had these two continents collided. . . . I found the New World of 1218 AD fascinating. I look forward to the next installment.”—Historical Novels Review
“Authoritatively researched, compellingly told, and with pleasing echoes of L. Sprague de Camp, Clash of Eagles is a modern masterpiece of what-if speculation.”—Stephen Baxter, Philip K. Dick Award–winning author of The Time Ships
“Alan Smale has done remarkable work with the worldbuilding in Clash of Eagles, dropping the sole Roman survivor of a massacre into the complex civilization of the Cahokian Native Americans in the thirteenth century. Yet what follows is more than a standard clash of cultures yarn, for there are other forces in play in this alternate North America, and Marcellinus knows his imperial masters will send more legions to replace his lost men. Can the determination and ingenuity of one man change the fate of a continent? I’m eager to find out.”—Harry Turtledove, New York Times bestselling author of How Few Remain
“My favorite kind of alternate history: epic, bloody, and hugely imaginative.”—John Birmingham, author of Without Warning
“Clash of Eagles is epic in its sweep, exciting in its narrative, and eyeball-kick sharp in its details.”—Nancy Kress, Nebula and Hugo Award–winning author of Beggars in Spain
“Clash of Eagles, the first book of Alan Smale’s trilogy, introduces the series with a lightning bolt. Bracketed between two breathtaking and meticulously strategized battles is a sensitive evocation of a lost culture, an act of literary archeology like no other I’ve read. My advice is to get in on the ground floor now!”—James Patrick Kelly, Nebula Award–winning author of Burn
About the Author
Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and he won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Best Short-Form Alternate History.
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Top Customer Reviews
While I also doubt the likelihood of a society being so quickly changed by superior technology (more resistance seems more reasonable) that part wasn't a major problem. (Heck, I loved Lest Darkness Falls- hope I got the title right - by de Camp which got me started with alternative history.) No, the other problem I had was with the main character's actions. I found Gaius Marcellinus way too introspective for one and way too willing to self-examine for a military tribune that had casually killed a slave for little reason.
The writing wasn't bad, perhaps a little slow-paced, but readable. On the other hand it was no problem to put it down if I had other things to do. There are stories that have cost me sleep, even when I had to go off to work in the morning, not this one. There were some twists, but too many predictable outcomes. There was some character development, especially with Gaius, but other characters didn't get the same attention.
I don't regret the purchase, but I won't spend more money on the next books in the trilogy.
What I Did Not Like: The most glaring problem with the book is not its grand assumption that makes it an alternative history story. The book assumes that Rome never fell, but continued to expand, and finally, in 1218, the Roman Emperor sent the 33rd Roman Legion, commanded by Gaius Marcellinus, to North America to conquer it for the glory of Rome and the gold that they expect to find in plenty. This is perfectly in keeping with the alternative history genre. But the story then falls completely off the rails.
It assumes as a second alternative history twist that the Indians, particularly the Cahokia Tribe, have developed hang-gliders. That is unlikely enough, but they have also developed huge thunderbird gliders that can carry a number of men, and a sort of naplam, or Greek fire that they drop on their enemies. These things are more deadly than World War One airplanes, evidently, because they were able to destroy an entire Roman Legion in a matter of minutes.
Now, Alan Smale can create the kind of world he wants--that is an author's privilege. But as a reader I am appalled at the very suggestion that such a thing could have happened. It stretches my credulity to the breaking point and far past it. Why not have them develop atomic weapons to wipe out the Romans? It would be no more impossible than these deadly bombers that Smale invented.
The other thing I did not like is the simple matter of the corn. Indian corn or maize was unknown in Europe. Yet Marcellinus simply talks about the fields of corn he saw as if he had seen them all his life. Smale missed a chance to show how strange the new world would have looked to a Roman. Perhaps a mention of turkeys or hummingbirds might have done the same, since he would have seen neither before.
What I Liked: I liked the characters Smale created. They seemed like real people, and Marceinus showed growth as the story progressed. The woman glider pilot Sisika also was well developed. The descriptions and tactics of the Roman Legions seemed credible. Some reviews thought a more Medieval army would be more likely, but I am with Smale on this. It seems likely that Roman Legions would stick with what worked.
The descriptions of the local tribes in North America seemed to be credible, also (with the notable exceptions mentioned above).
Conclusion: A well-written story in some ways, but so deeply flawed that I have no wish to continue the series. If an editor could have convinced the author to drop the ridiculous Indian air force and liquid fire from the sky this would have been a great story.
The young Roman in charge of the invasion force had managed to bring his troops across the Atlantic, to land in the Chesapeake Bay. The Romans had quickly dispatched the coastal tribes and then set forth traveling due west in search of the great cities that were said to lie there. As the Romans penetrated further into the new lands the resistance they encountered increased until they finally came face to face with the Chahokia a military force that just might be able to bring Rome to it's knees.
As is the norm with alternate history stories the differences start out fairly simply, one or two major events diverge from history as we know it. In this case Rome did not fall, an Emperor was not killed and the Empire continued to expand. After the initial event(s) though the differences continue and spread. Here the native Americans are not only well organized themselves but they have developed some fairly sophisticated weaponry themselves that put them on a more equal footing with the Roman Legion. Some of this technology would be plausible for a prospering Neolithic culture others require a big leap for the reader. This sort leap is not unusual in any sort of speculative fiction and so is not a fatal flaw in this novel. A bigger problem is the rather sketchily drawn characters. Other than the main character there is little to distinguish the remaining characters from each other. Basically they enter, perform their tasks and exit telling the reader nothing of substance about themselves. It's too bad because there are some really interesting stories to be told here. I hope that the author will get to them in the next novel.