John Maddox Roberts's alternative history Hannibal's Children
is an interesting expedition to answer the question "What if Hannibal of Carthage had succeeded in his bid to conquer Rome during the second Punic War?"
Roberts, author of The Catiline Conspiracy and several other titles revolving around ancient Rome, opens his novel with a few words of history to acquaint the reader with the particulars of the Punic War. He then launches into his experiment, taking the reader onto the floor of the Roman Senate, which is voting to accept Hannibal's terms of surrender, namely that the Romans leave their beloved seven hills and never return. The novel then moves forward 200 years, when the descendants of the exiled Romans have carved a new empire from the barbarous north called "Roma Noricum." An expedition is sent south to assess the strength of Hannibal's descendants--a journey that takes the scouts through Rome and across the Mediterranean to the hearts of Carthage and Egypt, which have risen to great power and wealth in the absence of Rome.
Roberts is a bear for details, especially those of a military nature. His fascination with Roman military prowess is evident as he skillfully and vividly re-creates the might of the legions. Likewise, his speculative re-creation of Roman, Carthaginian, and Egyptian societies is colorful and rich. Unfortunately, Roberts runs out of gas in his third act, leaving plot lines dangling, character development unfinished, and the reader stuck hoping for 300 more pages or wishing for a sequel. Despite this flaw, the book is a fascinating experiment that brings the ancient world to life. --Jeremy Pugh
From Publishers Weekly
What would have happened if Hannibal had received the reinforcements necessary for him to topple the Roman Empire? That fascinating "what if" is the central premise of Roberts's (the SPQR series) latest historical novel, which begins with the arrival of Philip V of Macedon and his formidable army at a pivotal point in the series of wars between Carthage and Rome, allowing the brilliant Hannibal to force a surrender in which the Romans are driven north out of Italy. Fast-forward a hundred years: the Romans are plotting their revenge against Hannibal's progeny, starting with a trade mission-cum-military espionage expedition led by Marcus Scipio. Scipio does a thorough job of sizing up the capabilities of the Carthaginians before leaving behind his rival, Titus Norbanus, to manage that situation in Carthage while he embarks on a similar expedition to Egypt. He then plans an ingenious series of maneuvers to retake Italy, pitting the Carthaginians against the Egyptians while manipulating both the queen of Egypt and Hannibal's heir, Hamilcar II, before a series of dramatic battles that feature the innovative war technology of the era. Roberts occasionally gets bogged down in military minutiae and cultural rituals, but his portraits of the various leaders and rivals are first-rate and his knowledge of the period is unassailable. He does an admirable job of navigating through a difficult and challenging conceit, providing plenty of reflective material for history buffs while constructing an intriguing story line that pays tribute to the ingenuity of the Romans.
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