Clash of Eagles by Alan Smales
The opener of Alan Smale’s Hesperian Trilogy has a theme that will be familiar to a generation who have read of Pocahontas (or seen the Disney film); a younger generation will find a more salient comparison to the film “Avatar”. This time, the author retains wholly the Native American setting, but throws in his own ‘twist’ of: “what if the Roman Empire was still existing in the twelfth century A.D”? Wrapped around this is the current socio-literary requirement to have a hero who is both taciturn and stubborn, yet open to both change and redemption coupled with a strong female lead, an icon for a gender.
The story commences with one of land-grab: the Roman Empire has turned up in the US two hundred years ahead of Mr Columbus, courtesy of an established Norse naval presence, and decided to march a legion in a straight line towards their own promised El Dorado. Their Praetor, Gaius Marcellinus, doesn’t manage to emulate Cabeza de Vaca, suffering a defeat of Carrhaean proportions, saved only by the Great Sun Man of the Cathokian, ostensibly to teach these semi-nomadic peoples new technologies. Come page 138 Gaius is forced to reconsider his options given “his legionaries were gone. There was no one else who spoke tolerable Latin in whole sentences within a thousand miles… Marcellinus’ enemies had become his keepers. And his keepers were not a mass of barbarians but a motley collection of human beings.”
What follows over three parts and three years is the gradual integration of Marcellinus into Cathokian society: learning their vocal and sign language, understanding how to fly, teaching them Roman infantry tactics, forming strong social bonds with their youth, learning to love their women (this is where Sintikala/Sisika comes in), bringing the concepts of steel and city defences to their culture. All of which starts out well, but then, inevitably, leads to a break in the balance of power in the region, hubris, and destruction with our narrative culminating in a battle against the Iroqua and sets us up for the next instalment.
Smale’s narrative is evenly paced as our male lead transitions from narrow-minded soldier into culturally adept leader. His battle sequences are astute, both at a personal fighting level and a tactical overview. He doesn’t suffer from a need to move from one testosterone-laden cliché to another, spending time developing relationships in Cahokia between all strata of society. Whilst the narrative isn’t first person, it is clearly told from a singular conscience, Marcellinus struggling to accept his failure, then achieving through stoicism an ability to change. Almost Stockholm Syndrome with echoes of that 1985 film: “The Emerald Forest”. As such the language of Smale’s prose is focused on either introspection or interaction; descriptions of both landscape and exuberant use of adjectives are reined in, deprioritised to the human story rather than the pictorial one. It means the novel moves along at an intriguing pace, rather than a gripping one, but this allows us to finish more replete than sated, looking for the next book.
A small gripe: even though this is an alternative history, Smale doesn’t steer away from the language of European prejudice, early in the narrative referring to ‘slant eyes’ and ‘redskins’. Frank L Baum might approve. There was also the classic “just deserts”, rather than “just desserts” that appears through so much of fiction these days. But these are minor quibbles. Cleverly (whether by accident or design), in removing Marcellinus from the geographic reality of inventing a twelfth century Roman Empire, Smale saves himself from accusations of historical inaccuracy despite this being an alternative history novel. It means he doesn’t have to develop a culture by an imaginary six hundred years (if we assume the end of the Roman Empire at 410.A.D.) but, for this reviewer, the failure to take up that challenge is the only disappointment in the book as I think he might be rather good at it. To the discerning eye this is quite evident as Marcellinus’ points of historical reference are all known Roman history, he never speaks, for example, of an imaginary Rome of the 9th Century. As such his alternative history is solely focused on imposing the technological advancements of a Rome that really seems to have stagnated since about 400A.D. to a Native American culture that is barely Bronze Age despite working out how to fly in a manner that is part Da Vinci, part Wright Bros..
Smale can tell a story, of that there is no doubt given this reviewer enjoyed the read and came away both satisfied and wanting to read the next in the series.
This Clash of Eagles book review was written by travelswithacanadian
All reviews for: The Clash of Eagles Trilogy
Clash of Eagles
The Clash of Eagles 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 Powhata...
Have you read Clash of Eagles?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
Clash of Eagles reader reviews
8.5/10 from 1 reviews
There are currently no reader reviews for this book. Why not be the first?
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, a...
Guy Gavriel Kay
For two years Shen Tai has mourned his father, living like a hermit beyond the borders of the Kitan Empire, by a mountain lake where terrible battles have long been fought ...
The Yiddish Policemen's Union
What if, as Franklin Roosevelt once proposed, Alaska - and not Israel - had become the homeland for the Jews after World War II? In Michael Chabon's Yiddish-speaking ...
Hats off to Brandenburg
London, 1815 – The Roxy Playhouse is in trouble! The Roxy Playhouse Irregulars, those libertine artists and dreamers, are up to their necks in debt – “Pay...
The Master and Margarita
Moscow, 1929: a city that has lost its way amid corruption and fear, inhabited by people who have abandoned their morals and forsaken spirituality. But when a mysterious st...
Catherynne M Valente
Child of the revolution, maiden of myth, bride of darkness. A handsome young man arrives in St Petersburg at the house of Marya Morevna. He is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, an...
Only five still guard the borders between the worlds. Only five hold back what waits on the other side. Once the Oversight, the secret society that polices the lines betwee...
The Gamehouse is an unusual institution. Many know it as the place where fortunes can be made and lost through games of Chess, Backgammon - every game under the sun. But a ...
The Bear and the Nightingale
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes pres...
Nights at the Circus
Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe's capitals, part swan... or all fake? Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordin...
In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of thi...
The War at Troy
The people who lived in those days were closer to gods than we are, and great deeds and marvels were commoner then, which is why the stories we have from them are nobler an...
The Golem and the Djinni
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, di...
Land of Hope and Glory
It is 1852. The Indian empire of Rajthana has ruled Europe for more than a hundred years. With their vast armies, steam-and-sorcery technology and mastery of the mysterious...
One Hundred Years of Vicissitude
"First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man. I have meagre proof, no framed- up certification, nothing to toss in a court of law as evidence of a rapid departur...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
Best of 2016
The Silver Mask
The gods and goddesses are dead, killed two hundred years ago. With their destruction the moon split apart, the sun dwindled and the land was devastated. Civilisation has re-e...
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
Paris was supposed to save Hallie. Now... well, let’s just say Paris has other ideas. There’s a strange woman called The Chronometrist who will not leave her alone. Garbled warnings from bizarre creatures keep her up at night. And there’s a time portal in the keg room of the bar where she works. Soon, Hallie is tumbling through...
A corrupted city. A dark dream of power. Luke is a prisoner, condemned for a murder he didn’t commit. Abi is a fugitive, desperate to free him before magic breaks his...
The Fifth Empire of Man
Rob J Hayes
The Pirate Isles are united under Drake Morrass’ flag, but the war has only just begun. There’s still a long way to go before he’s able to call himself Ki...
Ian C Esslemont
After the disappointments of Li Heng, Dancer and Kellanved wash up on a small insignificant island named Malaz. Immediately, of course, Kellanved plans to take it over. To ...
Age of Swords
Michael J Sullivan
Raithe, the God Killer, may have started the rebellion by killing a Fhrey, but long-standing enmities dividing the Rhunes make it all but impossible to unite against the co...
A Time of Dread
The Ben-Elim, a race of warrior angels, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands. But their dominion is brutally enforced and their ancient en...
The Last Dog on Earth
Adrian J Walker
Every dog has its day... And for Lineker, a happy go lucky mongrel from Peckham, the day the world ends is his: finally a chance to prove to his owner just how loyal he can...