The Clash of Eagles Trilogy by Alan Smale goes somewhere I have yet to find any other books go, or at least go in a way that is well written and mostly kind of makes sense: what if Rome survived? What would happen if the Romans went to North America?
We follow a Roman legionary named Gaius Marcellinus throughout the story. He starts out as the Praetor of a legion headed into the wilds of what is now the American Midwest, the territory of the people we commonly refer to now as the Mound Builders, centered on the great city of Cahokia on the (as it has become Anglicized to) Mississippi River.
It goes as Roman military disasters do: great and horrific slaughter because boy were they not expecting that.
The thing that they were not expecting in this case was the Cahokian Air Force and their napalm.
One of the more out-there theories about the reasons for mound building was that they were used as platforms to launch gliders. The Clash of Eagles goes with this pretty much from the start. In fact, the series later extends the same capability to the tribes and cultures of the entire continent. It also throws Greek fire (or liquid fire, functionally napalm to the layman) into the mix.
I consider this whole thing pretty ahistorical, but Smale does a good job making it seem plausible. After the military disaster, Marcellinus survives as a prisoner of sorts and ends up playing a major parts in technological and political developments.
It’s actually a very convoluted adventure that reminds me of old school adventure books. It meanders through strange cultures, some very savage wildernesses, and lots of really terrible luck. It’s a really enjoyable read, though it doesn’t shy from violence at all. This is not a world where any culture is kind. Marcellinus is a great main character, tough and weathered and smart enough to be interesting, but just as new to what’s going on in North America (Nova Hesperia, in the books) as we are. I suppose he’s a bit of a Gary Stu in many respects, but the book owns up to this and he goes through some awful stuff that leaves its marks.
I really recommend these books. They’re great reads on airplanes especially, since they’re both engaging and long. Pick up The Clash of Eagles Trilogy on Amazon or the bookstore of your choice.
That all said, I got a bone to pick.
The end of the second book and the entirety of the third go into something even more ahistorical than the indigenous low-tech Air Force of the North Americas.
The Mongol Horde lands on the West Coast and begins pushing east shortly thereafter.
That the Mongol Horde would be a thorn in a surviving Imperial Rome’s side is beyond plausible. I did some digging about what stopped the Mongols, however: they got to a point where they could no longer efficiently attack on horseback. The Mongols were incredibly successful cavalry, especially as archers. They could get somewhere fast and hit hard. When the climate turned colder and wetter than usual for some years in Hungary as the Mongols came through there, the land turned to marsh, impeding cavalry movements and reducing pastureland. The Mongol tactics were severely impeded and no longer effective. They ceased to be a serious threat to Europe, thought they did make much smaller later incursions.
To be effective, the Mongols needed horses. To be effective in North America, the Mongols would have needed healthy horses. Lots and lots of healthy horses, transported in good condition across the Pacific Ocean.
Have you ever flown from the continental United States to Hawaii? It is a long flight to the middle of the Pacific. The Pacific does narrow quite a bit in Bering Sea (53 miles!), but that is also very far north. It is dangerous for modern ships with modern navigational equipment and built using modern knowledge and tech. They generally aren’t also carrying large, more-delicate-than-you-think herbivores that do not like being confined in narrow wooden boxes on rough seas (plus supplies to feed them either en route or on land).
Horse cavalry has never been successfully transported en masse over the ocean. I do not think the Mongols could have realistically brought over enough horses in good health to begin overrunning North America successfully right off the bat. They’re not tanks. You can’t just have them come off the boat ready to take the fight to the enemy without some TLC.
[N.B. debatably you cannot do this with tanks either, according to some men I know who get facial ticks when you mention tank treads.]
The North American wild horse population is not native, but rather descended from Spanish horses brought across in a multitude of voyages, so the Mongols could not have bred any surviving horses with the local ones. Besides, based on the descriptions in the books, the Mongols did not wait to breed a solid herd up in a colony. They just started conquering, which has always been the only way the ancient Mongol culture survived anyway. If it starts colonizing, it begins to get lost in the effort. The Mongols may have conquered China, but in the end China subsumed them.
Also, the last book includes some more wild weapon suppositions from the Far East, including handheld flamethrowers and also gunpowder bombs thrown from gliders that resemble a Galaga enemy.
This all makes the third book quite a trip in my opinion. Worth the ride, though. And really well written.
I admire all the research that went into these books, even if I think some of the elements are ridiculous. So much effort was out into it. I am impressed beyond belief.
I really, really want more of the ‘Rome survived’ genre. I have ideas towards that end myself, though I have read an intriguing argument that Rome could not have never had an industrial revolution as matter of culture. The Clash of Eagles makes this argument more or less by having Roman military technological development frozen at the level they were at the height of the Roman Empire.
Hey, it’s fiction. People are certainly strange enough to have gotten to the point where we are now, so who knows what could be written to sound plausible. I really want to see some more good ‘Rome survived’ stories. And not that stupid one about Carthage winning the Punic Wars but not destroying Rome. That’s far more ahistorical than mass transport of horses across the Pacific.