July 02, 2008

Review of 1812

Is there any way the Cherokee and other Southeastern tribes could've avoided the Trail of Tears? Yes, if you believe Eric Flint's novel 1812: The Rivers of War.

1812: The Rivers of War (Mass Market Paperback)From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The first of a projected two-volume series, Flint's witty, tightly written alternative history presents a subtly revised version of events in the final year of the War of 1812. In March 1814, in the Mississippi Territory, Gen. Andrew Jackson's Tennessee Militia and Cherokee warriors fight a decisive battle against the Creek Indians. In August, a young Sam Houston, the adopted son of a Cherokee chief, arrives in Washington in time to help defend the Capitol building from invading British troops. The British fail to reach Fort McHenry, but they do get to New Orleans, where they adopt a slightly more intelligent plan of attack than in reality. While the enlightened political and racial attitudes of some white characters may seem unrealistic, such views weren't unheard of even in the South before significant expansion west and the emergence of the cotton kingdom. Flint (1632) offers historical figures rarely seen in fiction, such as James Monroe, in pre-Doctrine days, and the British general Robert Ross (not killed outside Baltimore); thorough scholarship in Napoleonic-era warfare; and strong, credible women. Fans will cheer even louder if this outstanding start turns out to be the first of a long saga.

From Booklist

Flint's new alternate-history saga explores the possibility that the Trail of Tears never occurred by depicting a thoroughly different War of 1812. It begins with Andrew Jackson's campaign against the Creeks, in which the Cherokees fought on Jackson's side. Young Sam Houston, an adopted Cherokee, and Patrick Driscol, an Irish rebel and Napoleonic Wars veteran, are sent to Washington, arriving just before the British do. Though Flint does not eliminate the "battle" of Bladensburg (alas!), his British don't burn Washington and never get to Fort McHenry. They do get to New Orleans, however, where, despite a more intelligent plan of attack than Pakenham actually used, Jackson repels them with the aid of some free black naval gunners, the Cherokees, Houston, and Driscol. And Flint's Pakenham survives. Flint has thoroughly mastered storytelling, and his characterization is masterly. His characters, historical and invented, are plausible for the time and place, and he makes neither an icon nor a demon of anyone. Irresistible for Flint's 1632 series fans and, indeed, for alternate-history buffs in general. --Frieda Murray

Flint's best book yet. Don't miss!, September 4, 2005
By Peter D. Tillman (Santa Fe, NM USA)

Flint's aim in this first of a new series is to construct a plausible Native Nation on America's western frontier, from the Cherokees and the other four Civilized Tribes who were dumped into Indian Territory (now eastern Oklahoma) in the first half of the 19th century, with unhappy results in our timeline (though they're doing OK now). Flint makes it clear that, with the number of European immigrants pouring into the Southeast, the tribes were going to lose their land, one way or another. He's trying for a less-horrible eviction than the Trail of Tears. What if the Tribes moved 'voluntarily,' with their cultures +/- intact, and developed a hybrid culture that would affect America for the good?

I came away from _Rivers of War_ with a more three-dimensional mental portrait of Andrew Jackson, a major character here, and who I'd previously filed under "boorish rabble-rouser." He looks much better (or at least more complex) in Flint's portrayal. Most of his characters were historical figures (including Sam Houston, a protagonist), though Flint cheerfully admits to fleshing-out the less well-known ones to fit his story. His battle scenes are unflinching, and may be too graphic for some. But Flint seems to have an unusually good understanding of the principles of warfare. And you won't be surprised to learn that Flint was once a candidate for a Ph. D. in history.

Now, this is alternate history, but I don't think I'll spoil your fun by letting on that Flint has stuck pretty close to *real* history, so far anyway. And he's dished up an excellent historical novel here--entertaining, informative, fast-moving, action-packed. *Lots* of blood & gore (fair warning). I read it in two sittings and liked it a lot. _Rivers of War_ is Flint's best novel to date--he's gotten better in writing craft, characterization, depth of research--heck, all the writerly virtues I can think of. Most importantly, he's a helluva storyteller. Highly recommended.
Comment:  I agree with these comments. That means I don't have to say too much myself. ;-)

The only reason 1812 isn't a prize-winner is that the characterizations aren't quite as deep as they could be. Flint establishes his protagonists as noble and heroic and they never falter. Something similar is true of the three major set pieces: the military battles. The good guys are so smart and brave that the outcomes are never in doubt.

This approach is certainly satisfying. It's like watching a TV show where you know the heroes will triumph in the end. But it's not the most compelling way to write fiction.

But these are minor quibbles. They explain why I'd give 1812 "only" an 8.5 rather than a 9.0 or higher. It's still one of the best Native-themed books ever.

If my count is correct, I've given only nine Native-themed novels an 8.5 or higher. 1812 is the tenth. Rob says: Read it.

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