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Hannibal's Children
John Maddox Roberts
Ace, 359 pages

Hannibal's Children
John Maddox Roberts
John Maddox Robert was born 1947 in Ohio. His first historical detective story from old Rome, SPQR, was nominated in 1991 for the Edgar Award.

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A review by Ian Nichols

Playing the "what if?" game is an old and honourable pastime for authors. In Hannibal's Children, John Maddox Roberts asks the question regarding the Punic wars between Carthage and Rome: what if Carthage had won? What if Publius Fabius Cunctator had not harried and delayed Hannibal until he lost his base of support in Italy? What if the Roman Senate had caved after the battle of Lake Trasimene? What if Scipio Africanus had not had the opportunity to annihilate Hannibal's army at the battle of Zama? A few fairly large questions, but ones which provide the core of this vastly entertaining novel.

After the battle of Lake Trasimene, when Hannibal surrounded and destroyed 30,000 of the 40,000 Romans sent against him. The choices for the Senate were clear: peace or war. In history, they held firm to their principles, tightened their belts and, generally, went on to a total war footing. In this novel, the Romans sue for peace, and Hannibal is able to dictate terms to the Romans. His terms are simple; leave Rome with what can be gathered quickly, and never return. His aim is to destroy the threat to Carthage for all time. In a month, the Romans gather together what they can, and set forth on their trek to the North, where they hope to find a new Rome.

They are successful, and after a hundred and fifteen years, in 100 BC, Roma Noricum is rich and powerful, sitting on the banks of the Danube. They have never forgotten Rome, nor Carthage, and an expedition sets out to discover what has happened to the city. As it travels through Italy, they discover that it has degenerated into a land of small cities and villages, some with the remnants of the high civilisation which existed before, all paying tribute to Carthage and all with legends of the might of Rome. It is not until they reach Tarentum that they encounter Carthaginians, who really don't know what to make of these Romans, who they thought to be dead or reverted to savagery. But they might be able to make use of them.

Carthage is the mightiest empire in the world, possessed of vast armies and navies, but it has problems. Egypt is the biggest of these, under Queen Selene II. She doesn't like Carthage, and would happily grind it into the dust. Within Carthage itself, there are differing factions, supporting different leaders. The throne of Hamilcar, the Shofet of Carthage, is shaky, partly because of his sister, Zarabel. After the Romans demonstrate their skill in battle on board the ship which brings them to Carthage, both rulers can see the potential for dealing with Egypt. A mission of Romans is sent, by Hamilcar, to Egypt, but the results are hardly what either he or the Romans expect. The Romans, of course, have other plans. They want to restore Rome and destroy Carthage.

From this point, the tale is filled with plot and counter-plot, romance, war and skulduggery. While the characters take a long time to develop, the setting is glorious and detailed. What the reader is left with is a sense of verisimilitude that makes it seem as if this is what really happened, and history is a sham. The austere discipline the Romans have developed in conquering the North is finely drawn. The ghostly ruins of Rome, when they return there, are both noble and tragic. Over all looms to splendour of Carthage and Alexandria, both grown bloated with power and wealth. All of this is so solidly grounded in the author's knowledge of history that it comes alive on the page. One can only look forward to the next volume.

Copyright © 2003 Ian Nichols

Ian Nichols is studying for his Masters degree at the University of Western Australia, and is fortunate enough to be studying in the area he most enjoys; Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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