My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's a strong beginning to an alternate history series, pitting an unfallen Roman Empire against the Moundbuilding cultures of the Mississippi in the approximate 1200 AD analog of our world. Whilst the background details of wider history are a bit fuzzy, the world comes alive in the physical and psychological story of a "superior" culture discovering the dangers and audacity of assumption. What will happen to a Rome facing a continent bigger than its current empire? What influence will Rome have in this new environment?
Smale does an excellent job of showing the tensions between cultures. Even without Rome in the mix, the Iroquois Confederacy and the Cahokian Alliance have been involved in an ever-escalating war, one every tribe on two continents may have to deal with. To them, a Roman incursion is a mere blip in a much larger scenario—or is it? The pleasures of reading alternate history are mostly about speculation: “What if?” “What happened to?” There is also pleasure to be had in the opportunity to re-examine history. Smale provides the opportunity for both pleasures, and tells a good story, too! I usually don’t care much about the tech details of these kinds of stories, but the hero and I share a fascination here, hopefully explored in more detail in the next books.
For sheer inventiveness and setting, I was reminded of Kurt A. Giambastiani’s alternate Cheyenne Alliance adventures, though they’re an imaginary 600 years later. Well-researched, with an index and guide to further reading, Clash of Eagles is highly recommended for those who enjoy historical and speculative fiction with a thoughtful pace.
I received an EARC of the book from the publisher and Netgalley for review.
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