In the second book of a planned trilogy in which the Roman Empire never collapsed, Gaius Marcellinus copes alone after his 33rd Legion was wiped out by Cahokian warriors.
That defeat stymied the 13th-century Roman emperor Hadrianus III, who had planned to colonize New Hesperia—North America. Gaius has shared Roman technology and tactics with his former adversaries, making him a court favorite of Mapiya, Great Sun Man, ruler of Cahokia’s Great City of the Mizipi. The Cahokians already possessed sophisticated weaponry—aircraft (think hang gliders) and something like napalm, presented in acceptably believable fashion. Fearing Rome’s further ambitions, Gaius pleads for a truce and alliance between Cahokia and its historic enemy, the Five Tribes of the Iroqua. Secretly, Gaius seeks out the Iroqua. When Cahokian warriors learn why, there’s a bloody coup. Mapiya is killed. Gaius’ enemy, Avenaka, becomes leader of the Cahokians. Gaius, his loyalists, and beautiful, brilliant Sintikala, Cahokian aviation chief, must flee. Smale’s (Clash of Eagles, 2015) novel has the pace and scope of a Michener or Uris epic. Gaius and Hadrianus become compelling heroic characters, their face-to-face meetings nerve-wracking. Other characters, excepting Sintikala and a few other Cahokians, are bit players drawing little emotional investment. Conversely, Smale’s action scenes slash across page after page, intense and bloody. Gaius and his crew steal a salvaged Viking longboat and traverse the Mizipi River, attempting to form tribal alliances. After discovering more Romans are landing, Gaius races north to the Wemessori River to find the People of the Grass. There, Tahtay, Mapiya’s son and rightful Cahokian leader, has returned to his mother’s people, the fierce Blackfoot. Tahtay’s evolving boy-to-man character helps Smale’s imaginative story blast past preconceptions as Gaius encourages the young chief to seek accommodation.
Grab your dagger and sword, for the battle continues—setting the stage for a powerful Volume 3.