British troops barrelling through Maine on U.S. railroads. Russian, Union, and British naval vessels fighting it out near New York City. Citizens of Charleston, South Carolina, lining up behind P.G.T. Beauregard to greet a battered Royal Navy ship. Confederate flags flying freely over the Windy City of Chicago. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in his greatest battle since Little Round Top at Gettysburg. French troops march through Texas to relieve Union-held New Orleans. Lincoln and Stanton fighting a war on multiple fronts. Troops and ships rushing all over the map to confront one another.
Britannia’s Fist, the first in a new trilogy from Potomac Books, can best be described as a believable and well written alternative history that “might have been.” Replete with fictitious and real footnotes and references, George Tsouras’s latest work at first glance might repel the die-hard Civil War buff who is looking for facts. However, this fascinating book is written in the fast-paced, free-flowing, “you are there” style developed so wonderfully by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Shaara in his masterful book, Killer Angels. Both books start a little slow as they set up the background and characters, but both build to a crescendo. Unlike Shaara’s book, this one leaves you hanging and desperately awaiting the second installment.
Tsouras, an analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, writes this book in a believable fashion, using actual Civil War characters and situations as the basis for his alternative fiction. He begins in the fall of 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg and the New York Draft Riots. Diplomatic blunders and errors by overagressive military officers collide to set up a chain reaction that draws Britain, France, and Russia into combat in North America, while the Confederate army licks its chops and awaits the orders to advance on Washington. William Rosecrans is bogged down in Georgia and Tennessee, and secret CSA operatives match wits with George Sharpe, the Union head of intelligence.
What results is a fast-paced, action-packed book that frankly reads like a TV mini-series in the waiting. Alternating between the main (and some lesser) characters’ point of view, Tsouras has fashioned a book that is sure to fascinate most readers, and especially those who enjoy this kind of alternative history. To me, it’s much better written and more enjoyable than Newt Gingrich’s series or even Harry Turtletaub’s extensive line of “fictional history.” At slightly over 200 pages, I read the book in a couple plane rides while on business this past two weeks, and, frankly, the flights whizzed by and I was disappointed to land and put down the book.
As you dive into the book and begin to get drawn into the action, be warned that the book ends abruptly, a ploy that is certain to draw fans back to their wallets for rounds two and three of this trilogy.
All in all, I was throughly entertained, something I cannot say for much of the alternative history that has crossed my desk in recent years.
Britannia’s Fist: From Civil War to World War. Peter G. Tsouras. ISBN 978-1-57488-823-2. Hard cover. Potomac Books, 2008. 253 pages.