Book Review: Eagle in Exile by Alan Smale

eagle in exileI’ve been reading quickly through the ton of books I got for the Sidewise Awards and since I just reviewed Clash of Eagles, I figured this is a good time to review its sequel and contender for next year’s Sidewise Awards: Eagle in Exile. If you want more information about the universe of Clash of Eagles, go check out my last review because I am just going to dive right into the story.

Eagle in Exile begins right after the Iroquois have sacked Cahokia. Gaius Marcellinus finds himself with few friends left in Cahokia as many blame him and his new inventions for bringing the wrath of the Iroquois down on them. As Great Sun Man (war chief of Cahokia) prepares to lead his army into Iroquois lands, Gaius decides to take it upon himself to end the war between Cahokia and the Iroquois, before either tribe is too weak to fight the Romans when they return. Gaius, with the aide of Hawk chief Sintikala, sneaks into Iroquois land and, despite much hardship, convince the Iroquois to end their feud with Cahokia. Even Great Sun Man accepts the negotiated peace, but not everyone in Cahokia is happy that the war ended without avenging the sack of Cahokia.

Great Sun Man is later killed in a coup and Gaius is forced to flee south down the Mississippi River on a captured Norse longship with his few friends and allies. Although banished from Cahokia, Gaius still hopes to build his “Hesperian League” by convincing the tribes of the coming Roman threat. When evidence appears, however, that the Romans are back and in even greater numbers that Gaius predicted, it becomes a race against time to confront the Romans before Cahokia is destroyed.

One of the reasons why I didn’t waste time on the introduction for this review is that Eagle in Exile didn’t waste any time getting to the meat of the story either. A lot of sequels waste time reintroducing the readers to characters and concepts of the story, probably in case someone is starting the book out of order. I never understood why since most books are clearly marked as being book two, three or whatever and it just slows down the story for readers who actually are reading the book in order. Thankfully Smale didn’t do this and I actually find it to be quite refreshing.

That being said, I kind of felt I was reading two different books in Eagle in Exile. The events leading up to the Iroquois accepting peace could have been a part of Clash of Eagles and a great place to end that story. Eagle in Exile could then begin back in Cahokia where there is discontent over the peace. Instead we are a good 150 pages into the hardcover edition of the book before the titular exile begins. That is a long time to wait for the plot to begin.

Still that may just be a nitpick. Eagle in Exile is a good story. I like how Gaius is trying to find a diplomatic solution to the coming conflict between the tribes of Nova Hesperia and Rome, but isn’t afraid of getting cuts and bruises along the way. Smale really puts Gaius through the ringer and if I were the author, I would not want to run into Gaius in a dark alley. Gaius may not be as restrained as he is with other enemies in this book.

I should also point out that there may be a theory as to why disease is not currently a factor in the story, as I mentioned in my last review. A friend pointed out that the Romans were a clean people and thus the epidemics brought by trade with Asia and the Mongols, may not exist in this timeline. Sadly I forgot to ask Smale about this when I interviewed him for SFF World (which will be posted this Wednesday) and I really don’t know much about germ theory, but on its face it sounds convincing.

Speaking of Mongols, they will figure into the conclusion of the series, but we will need to wait until 2017 before we can read Eagle and Empire. In the meantime I still recommend Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile. Its a story that emphasizes diplomacy over war, but still allows for action and fascinating world building. Check it out if you get the chance.

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