01/03/2010. Contributed by Paul Hanley
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 410 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 0-345-48237-9).
check out websites: www.delreydigital.com and http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345494795
This is an alternative history which is set in the American Civil War. This period or World War II which runs it a close second, appears to be the invariable period of choice for such books. However, the author does take a real incident in 1861 when a US warship intercepted a British merchant ship, the Trent, on the High Seas and dragged off several Confederates diplomats who had been on passage to Europe. This very nearly did lead to war between Great Britain and the USA and it is said that only the intervention of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband and consort, who toned down a diplomatic note stopped the incident escalating to war.
Robert Conroy, who has written previous alternate histories, unfolds this new scenario from the viewpoint of real characters of the period such as General Winfield Scott, the former US Army commander or Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister, as well as other characters whom I imagine for the most part come from his imagination.
This was a period of transition in military affairs on sea as well as land. Steam-driven iron ships were replacing wooden sailing ships and ever bigger cannon firing explosive shells and breach-loading rifles were replacing muzzle-loaded cannons and muskets. It was also a railway war with troops being rushed from battlefront to battlefront by train.
I think the author reflects the reality of British naval power in that he accepts they would succeed in breaking the US blockade but thereafter, he is an American, he seems determined to have the US invariably winning on land if not always at sea. In his scenario, General Grant, recalled from the West, rapidly defeats the British in Canada. Whilst Grant became a very effective general in what was arguably the first modern war, I happened to have a history of my own regiment and know that it was shipped over to Canada with other British 20,000 troops in what I suppose we could call the authentic time-line. The Americans could not conquer Canada during the War of Independence nor in 1812 when we had our hands full with Napoleon so I doubt the Canadians would have given up on this occasion neither.
That said and perhaps I am showing my prejudices as well, it is a well-written story with plenty of action which weaves together a variety of characters to bring the tale to a final conclusion. As I say, I do not entirely agree with his outcome but the author has written a credible tale of what if and keeps up the action throughout. I would thoroughly recommend it.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA