John Maddox Roberts has been writing a mystery series set in ancient Rome. It must have seemed natural to use his familiarity with this setting in a science fiction novel.
Subtitled "A Novel of Alternate History" Roberts sets Hannibal's Children in a world where Carthage did not fall to Rome. Hannibal is able to force a decisive confrontation with Rome aided by reinforcements from Philip V of Macedon, aid he never received in our universe. The Romans are given a choice of exile from Italy or the destruction of Rome. The Romans choose exile - for while Rome exists there is hope.
Over a century later the Romans have carved out an empire in Northern Europe ruled from New Rome. But it is still not the Rome of their ancestors, the home of their gods. A decision is made to send an expedition south to gather intelligence for the reclamation of Rome.
Nearly the first third of this novel is setting up the background for the rest. Only after the expedition reaches the court of the Shofet of Carthage do the wheels within wheels start turning. Carthage is vying with Egypt to be the most powerful and both are wary of the Seleucids in the East. The Romans seem a heaven sent army to be used by Carthage to realize its dreams and then discard.
Politics is something the well-bred patrician Roman has had to practice since youth. Marcus Cornelius Scipio believes he can use the present situation to his advantage to restore Rome to its glory and more. If only he can keep in check the ambitions of his second in command, Titus Lucerius Norbanus, while he plays one mighty leader against another.
Some readers might find the lack of deep characterization a detriment. The book also suffers from the usual problems of alternate history many areas of culture stay lockstep with ours while some, the engineering of Archimedes in this case, vary widely. Overall the novel is entertaining enough if the reader is willing to stay at it long enough.
At the end the main characters are starting to regroup their positions indicating several more novels may be planned. They'll have to go on most likely without me as a reader.
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