Edge of a Knife – a review


As both a reader and writer, I am fascinated by alternative histories so when Robert Edward mentioned his book on Goodreads, I was game for a read.


Edge of a Knife (The American Mage War #1)

by Robert Edward (Goodreads Author)

It has been thirteen years since southern war wizards decisively defeated the Union Army and gained independence for the Confederate States of America. In 1876, the United States is a shattered nation. It stands alone, beset by enemies in a world torn apart by the terrible power of magic. Across the globe, kings and presidents, emperors and generals command sorcerers who harness the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire to wreak havoc on their enemies.
A magical fault line divides North America, where the hydromancers of the United States and pyromancers of the Confederate States maintain an uneasy truce. Both nations race to acquire new and more powerful magic to ensure victory when the next war inevitably comes.
In a Pittsburg tavern, Jared Gilsom, son of a wealthy shipping magnate, smuggler, and part-time thief, meets a strange woman. She has ties to an enigmatic group working both inside and outside the Union government to develop the North’s magical arsenal. A chance battle with southern agents in the city streets draws Jared into their mission. After retrieving a vital treasure from a renegade hydromancer, Jared joins a clandestine raid into the heart of the Confederacy. There, he finds a nation on the brink of its own collapse, where ambitious opportunists wait only for the right moment to seize power.
As Jared and his companions fight their way out of the South, the world continues to spiral into chaos. And magic will either save America or ensure its destruction.

Review 3.8*

My passion for Alternative history began with the American Civil War when I read Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee. So, I was drawn to this alternative when again the South was victorious. However, in Robert Edward’s well-crafted world in ‘Edge of a Knife’ magic has somehow emerged although why is a key theme of this novel.

In the opening pages, I was pulled into the story, and this alternative world worked, and the setting of post-alternate American Civil War felt right. At first, the magic was not overt or an all-conquering force. Later in the tale, we discover what has happened to reawaken magic, although Edwards doesn’t reveal all even as the novel concludes. Roll on Book 2 or maybe even in 3.

Anyway, the story was intriguing as it developed, with neat political parallels as well as the central plot. Jared as the main POV character evolved steadily, and a vivid picture emerged, although the others were less vivid – but then we were never inside their heads and nor was Jared. Action in other settings meant that the POV changed, more often to Confederate characters adding another perspective that generated events that crossed with the main character’s quest.

A few scenes from a political perspective felt like exposition, although those scenes added to the world-building and in one case foreshadowed a concluding scene.

At the midpoint, the stakes are raised, and the unexpected twists work. Beyond that key point, there was a sense that the story was building to a climax – a climax that hinted at possible events in Book 2. The events kept racing and twisting as the satisfying ending unfolded. One of the concluding scenes from the perspective of another nation – no spoilers on offer – was unexpected even though subtly foreshadowed. These scenes set up Book 2 and revealed a clever twist that I didn’t see coming.

I recommend the read for those that enjoy alternative history. I can’t say if the American Civil War period is correct, but to me, that felt right. As for stars, I was wavering as I finished the novel between three and four. The inconsistency of some spellings – Pittsburgh with an extra ‘h’ – and some sloppy sentence constructions pointed to a lack of final editing. However, these didn’t ruin the read.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – three stars


What is my coolest research?

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

I’m attempting to ignore the heart-wrenching stuff going on – a family crisis on top of the medical problems that meant I was late posting last month’s post for Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day. No real excuse then for evading this post although I’m so depressed I can’t escape to my writing worlds, just into a game world where I can fight spiders and hyenas rather than injustice.

Okay, so what is this month’s optional question?

May 3 Question: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

That got me thinking about all the different bits of research that I had done for my various books from my debut to novels at the first draft stage. My debut was set against the equestrian world that I worked in as a journalist so there were some minor extra questions that I had to ask or facts to check – but I had to research diabetes and sportspeople, plus PTSD. For other books, there have been how online games are produced, shamanism, Romany customs, and policing in a bilingual country. But weird or cool?



Artist’s concept for a high-altitude, long-duration airship that could be used as a research platform or for commercial purposes. Image credit: Mike Hughes (Eagre Interactive)/Keck Institute for Space Studies


Coolest must be researching the latest developments in airships for Eagle’s Passage, my alternative history set in 2020. Here and there are so many great things happening from Air Cushion Landing systems to NASA’s challenge to produce a high-altitude airship. A high-tech airship called Draken Njal Migisi is the main craft in my novel and I got the chance to project many of today’s design ideas, including one for SOLAR-JETS – engines powered by solar kerosene, which I also use in my post-apocalyptic novel Storms Compass. I still use solar cells as a key component.

And for anyone wondering about my airship’s name, the first word is Norwegian for Dragon – as some longships were called – and for Njal Migisi visit my C is for Cristóbal Colón post in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Mind you, researching the History of Kanata has been cool – and at times weird.


The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with my fellow writers.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

Our revved up IWSG Day question may prompt us to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. If so, we include our answer to the question in our IWSG post or let it inspire our post if we are struggling with something to say.

The awesome co-hosts for the May 3 posting of the IWSG are Nancy Gideon, Tamara Narayan, Liesbet @ Roaming About, Michelle Wallace, and Feather Stone!


Z is for Zaachila

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

My 2017 A to Z Challenge theme is “The History of Kanata”, the parallel world that is the setting for “Eagle Passage”, my alternative history novel that all began when I wondered, “What would have happened if Leif Eriksson had settled Vinland permanently in 1000 AD? For further details and links to my other A to Z posts – and hints at the ones to come visit “Kanata – A to Z Challenge 2017”.

Z (1)

Z is for Zaachila: 15 August 1521, Zaachila – After receiving news of the defeat of their arch-enemies the Aztecs, King Cosijoeza the Zapotec ruler of Zaachila decides that his people should not to confront the Spaniards and suffer the same fate. However, he hesitates on hearing the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan has been destroyed, including all the temples, and that Hernán Cortés, leader of the Spaniards has banished the surviving Aztec people, having ruthlessly killed many of them.

Seeking the advice of Kanata diplomat, Brynja Migisi, he is advised that the Spaniards will suppress all of Mesoamerica until it is subject to the Spanish crown and the Catholic church. Cosijoeza asks for strategic guidance from Brynja and her Mjölnir Militia bodyguards as he unites the Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Tarascans, Xochimilcas, and other nations in the region.

Seeking more land to conquer and heathens to convert, Hernán Cortés sends ruthless conquistador Pedro de Alvarado with 180 cavalry, 300 infantry, crossbows, muskets, four cannons, large amounts of ammunition and gunpowder, and thousands of allied Mexican warriors to subdue the Mayans.

However, crossing the Tehuantepec Isthmus in Zapotec territory, Alvarado is confronted by Cosijoez’s superior forces with their own horses, iron and steel weapons, and gunpowder;. Brynja Migisi with her Mjölnir bodyguards attempts to negotiate a truce explaining that the Norse have learnt to live with the indigenous people. Alvarado calls her a pagan and refuses to negotiate, instead ordering the Kanatians executed. But his Mexican allies turn on the outnumbered Spaniards, and with Cosijoez’s forces drive the surviving Spaniards back to their isolated enclaves. Mesoamerica would absorb the invaders.


Location of Zapotec Civilization – Based on cartography produced by User:Koba-chan – Author: Yavidaxiu – Public domain

In our timeline: Source – Wikipedia

Zaachila was a powerful Mesoamerican city in what is now OaxacaMexico. The city is named after Zaachila Yoo, the Zapotec ruler, in the late 14th and early 15th century. It is now an archaeological site. A large unexplored pyramid mound is in the centre in which two tombs were discovered in 1962. These tombs are thought to belong to important Mixtec persons.

Following the fall of Monte Alban, Zaachila became the last Zapotec capital. Sometime before the arrival of the Spaniards, the capital was conquered by the Mixtecs. The history of the pre-Hispanic city is unclear. One theory is that the site flourished 1100 and 1521 AD. Another theory is that the city was founded in 1399 and could be compared to Tenochtitlan, as it was a city in the middle of a lake. The full extent of the ancient city is not known either, principally because excavation is impeded by the fact that most mounds have inhabited structures on them.

The Zapotec civilisation was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilisation that flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca in Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence shows that their culture goes back at least 2,500 years. The Zapotec left archaeological evidence at the ancient city of Monte Albán in the form of buildings, ball courts, magnificent tombs and grave goods including finely worked gold jewellery. Monte Albán was one of the first major cities in Mesoamerica and the centre of a Zapotec state that dominated much of the territory that today belongs to the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

At the time of Spanish conquest of Mexico, when news arrived that the Aztecs were defeated by the Spaniards, King Cosijoeza ordered his people not to confront the Spaniards so they would avoid the same fate. They were defeated by the Spaniards only after several campaigns between 1522 and 1527. However, uprisings against colonial authorities occurred in 1550, 1560 and 1715.

The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire (begun February 1519) was one of the most significant events in the Spanish colonisation of the Americas.

The Spanish campaign began in February 1519 and was declared victorious on August 13, 1521, when a coalition army of Spanish forces and native Tlaxcalan warriors led by Hernán Cortés and Xicotencatl the Younger captured emperor Cuauhtemoc and Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. However, the conquest was much more complex and took longer than the three years that it took Cortés to conquer Tenochtitlan. It took almost 60 years of wars for the Spaniards to suppress the resistance of the Indian population of Mesoamerica.

Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras was a Spanish conquistador and governor of Guatemala. He is considered the conquistador of much of Central America, including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Although renowned for his skill as a soldier, Alvarado is known also for the cruelty of his treatment of native populations, and mass murders committed in the subjugation of the native peoples of Mexico.

Could Mesoamerica survive until the year 2020 despite the Spaniards? Would they be a threat to Kanata or allies?


Important Links for the A to Z Challenge – please use these links to find other A to Z Bloggers

Website: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/atozchallenge/

Twitter handle: @AprilAtoZ

Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

Y is for Yuan Dynasty

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

My 2017 A to Z Challenge theme is “The History of Kanata”, the parallel world that is the setting for “Eagle Passage”, my alternative history novel that all began when I wondered, “What would have happened if Leif Eriksson had settled Vinland permanently in 1000 AD? For further details and links to my other A to Z posts – and hints at the ones to come visit “Kanata – A to Z Challenge 2017”.

X (1)

Y is for Yuan Dynasty: 12 August 1410, Nanjing, Yangtze River – After suppressing the revolts fermented by the Ming invaders, Empress Mandukhai Khatun has secured the Yuan Dynasty with her husband, Batmunkh Dayan Khan, a direct descendant of the great Genghis Khan. Their advisors had encouraged them to adopt the era name Yongle, meaning “perpetual happiness” for that was the age they were entering.

Standing with their courtiers and diplomats aboard the imposing 408-foot, four-decked Imperial junk anchored off the fortress port of Nanjing, they watch they watch the return of Admiral Zheng He’s fleet of 62 treasure ships supported by 190 smaller ships, knowing Zheng’s fourth voyage west had ensured that Chinese dominance of the western trade routes was undisputed with twenty-five fortified ports established to secure the trade routes. Imperial messengers had already announced that the rulers of eighteen countries were sending envoys with the fleet bearing tribute to the Yuan court.

Only the Norse trade network centred in the north remained to be absorbed, or subjugated if they challenged the true heirs of Genghis Khan. However, their distant relations, the Khanate of the Golden Horde had failed to seize any territory held by the Varangians or Rurikids allied to the Norse. The Yuans had a duty to reclaim all the Mongol territory and spread the words of the Buddha.


Author – Continentalis  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

In our timeline: Source – Wikipedia

The Yuan dynasty was the empire or ruling dynasty of China established by Kublai Khan, leader of the Mongolian Borjigin clan. Although the Mongols had ruled territories including today’s North China for decades, it was not until 1271 that Kublai Khan officially proclaimed the dynasty in the traditional Chinese style, and the conquest was not complete until 1279. His realm was, by this point, isolated from the other khanates and controlled most of present-day China and its surrounding areas, including modern Mongolia.

…The final years of the Yuan dynasty were marked by struggle, famine, and bitterness among the populace. In time, Kublai Khan’s successors lost all influence on other Mongol lands across Asia, while the Mongols beyond the Middle Kingdom saw them as too Chinese. Gradually, they lost influence in China as well…falling to the forces of the Míng dynasty (1368–1644)

Mandukhai Khatun (Mongolian, also known as Mandukhai Sechen Khatun, or Queen Manduhai the Wise, (c. 1449 – 1510) was the Khatun of the Northern Yuan dynasty, that survived the Yuan Dynasty and was based in Mongolia. She reunited the warring Mongols with her husband Batmunkh Dayan Khan, a direct descendant of Genghis Khan.

The treasure voyages were the seven Ming-era maritime voyages between 1405 and 1433. The Yongle Emperor initiated the construction of the treasure fleet in 1403. The grand project resulted in seven far-reaching ocean voyages to the coastal territories and islands in and around the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and beyond. Admiral Zheng He was commissioned to command the treasure fleet for the expeditions. Six of the voyages occurred during the Yongle reign (r. 1402–24), while the seventh voyage occurred under the Xuande reign (r. 1425–1435). The first three voyages reached up to Calicut on India’s southwestern coast, while the fourth voyage went as far as Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. Afterwards, the fleet made voyages farther away to the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa.

The Chinese expeditionary fleet was heavily militarised and carried great amounts of treasures, which served to project Chinese power and wealth to the known world. They brought back many foreign ambassadors whose kings and rulers were willing to declare themselves tributaries of China.

Would the Chinese under the Mongolians challenge the Norse trade empire based in Kanata? Would this lead to a naval war? Who would win?


Important Links for the A to Z Challenge – please use these links to find other A to Z Bloggers

Website: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/atozchallenge/

Twitter handle: @AprilAtoZ

Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

X is for Xochimilco

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

My 2017 A to Z Challenge theme is “The History of Kanata”, the parallel world that is the setting for “Eagle Passage”, my alternative history novel that all began when I wondered, “What would have happened if Leif Eriksson had settled Vinland permanently in 1000 AD? For further details and links to my other A to Z posts – and hints at the ones to come visit “Kanata – A to Z Challenge 2017”.

X (1)

X is for Xochimilco: March 26, 1850, Xochimilco – ecological scientists and sanitation innovators, Leena Riika Niellä and her partner Roope Richardson are travelling by steam powered boat and canoes through the extensive lakes and canal system of Xochimilco taking water samples. They are accompanied by a senior minister for the Mēxihcan Board of Health, Citlali Aguado who is concerned about the decline in the nation’s sanitation in the Valley of Mēxihca. He wants the Kanatian experts to advise on the best policies to be introduced, based on their expertise in the field and extensive work in other cities across the continent. Their immediate recommendations include reduced exploitation of the natural water resources, controls on waste discarded from ships, and sewage treatment plants based on the reed bed advancement made in recent years. Industrial waste must not be allowed to contaminate the water, soil, or air, but be re-used.



A farmer weeding his crops on one of Xochimilco’s remaining chinampas (farm island) – Photographer – Jflo23 – GNU Free Documentation Licence


In our timelineWikipedia – Xochimilco borough is centred on the formerly independent city of Xochimilco, which was established on what was the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco in the pre-Hispanic period. The name “Xochimilco” comes from Nahuatl and means “flower field.” This referred to the many flowers and other crops that were grown here on artificial land called chinampas since the pre-Hispanic period. Xochimilco is best known for its canals, which are left from what was an extensive lake and canal system that connected most of the settlements of the Valley of Mexico….In 1850, the first steam powered boat travelled through here, connecting Mexico City with Chalco. Steam powered ships remained in Xochimilco waters from then until the 1880s, when they faded from use. Before during and after, Xochimilco continued to make more traditional rafts, canoes and trajineras, pushed along the shallow waters by a pole


…Up through the centuries, the valley lakes continued to shrink but there were still canals that linked Xochimilco to the centre of Mexico City. In the late 19th century, Mexico City had outgrown its traditional water supplies and began to take water from the springs and underground aquifers of Xochimilco. Degradation of the lakes was fastest in the early 20th century when projects such as the Canal del Desagüe were built to further drain the valley. This and excessive aquifer pumping lowered water tables and canals near Mexico City centre dried up and cut off an inexpensive way to get goods to market for Xochimilco. This had a major effect on the area’s economy, along with the effects of the loss of fishing for many local communities.

Wikipedia – Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards (December 3, 1842 – March 30, 1911) was an industrial and environmental chemist in the United States during the 19th century. Her pioneering work in sanitary engineering and experimental research in domestic science laid a foundation for the new science of home economics

…In the 1880s, her interests turned toward issues of sanitation, in particular air and water quality. She performed a series of water tests on 40,000 samples of local waters which served as drinking water for their immediate populations… in the state of Massachusetts. As a result, Massachusetts established the first water-quality standards in America, and the first modern sewage treatment plant was created.

Reed beds are becoming the popular and sustainable choice for wastewater and sludge management. Subsurface Flow Constructed Wetlands is one of the options available in Washington State.


Important Links for the A to Z Challenge – please use these links to find other A to Z Bloggers

Website: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/atozchallenge/

Twitter handle: @AprilAtoZ

Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

R is for Rurikid Diarchy

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

My 2017 A to Z Challenge theme is “The History of Kanata”, the parallel world that is the setting for “Eagle Passage”, my alternative history novel that all began when I wondered, “What would have happened if Leif Eriksson had settled Vinland permanently in 1000 AD? For further details and links to my other A to Z posts – and hints at the ones to come visit “Kanata – A to Z Challenge 2017”.

R (1)

R is for Rurikid Diarchy: 23 April 1933, Kiev – With the peaceful future of international relations thriving after the creation of the Union of World Nations in 1930, Tsaritsa Irina Feodorovna, co-ruler of the Rurikid Diarchy agrees with her co-ruler Patriarch Yaroslav Pieracki of the Kievan Orthodox Church that they should abdicate in favour of a true democracy. Despite the opposition of Georgian authoritarian, Josef Stalin, her Ukrainian advisors, Dariya Stasiuk and Havryil Chayka, draw up a constitution that addresses the existence in the Rurikid territories of various ethnic groups and states, using the example set by their trading partner, Kanata.

Fears of another European war diminish with the successful election of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and the defeat of the Nazi party struggling after the death from syphilis of their psychotic leader Adolf Hitler.

A year later the Rurikid Confederation is born, with the Tsaritsa agreeing to represent Rurikid and perform speeches or attend any important ceremonial events as a symbolical guide to the people, but she agrees to hold no actual power in decision-making, appointments, etcetera. The Rurikid dynasty has ruled the Rus territories since 862, when her Varangian ancestor, Prince Rurik, originally from Norway, settled Novgorod before conquering Kievan Rus′.



Millenium of Russia monument in Novgorod with Prince Rurik at the centre and Vladimir the Great at the left and Dmitry Donskoy at the right (both Rurikids) – Creative Commons

In our timeline: The Rurikid Dynasty was founded by the Varangian Prince Rurik, around the year 862, and they ruled in parts of Russia for over 700 years. The Varangians was a name given to the Vikings by the East Slavs and Greeks. Many served as mercenaries with the Byzantine Empire.


The last Tsars, the Romanovs, were descended from the Rurikids through marriage, but their reign ended with the Russian Revolution in 1917. Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Georgian by birth and took part in the Revolutions of 1917. He was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Some have argued that he would have forced his way into power under any system and was never a true communist.

The Russian Orthodox Church was founded around 988 and survived through the Soviet period despite persecution. Some of the former states now have separate Orthodox Churches over which the ROC does not have full autonomy, notably the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany was the main opposition to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, but in 1930, its deputies were either arrested or fled into exile. Adolf Hitler is reputed to have had various medical conditions, including syphilis.

Could a move to genuine democracy in Germany and Russia, and the death of Hitler, have avoided World War II? What kind of influence could a Kanata Confederation with allies in Northern Europe have wielded?


Important Links for the A to Z Challenge – please use these links to find other A to Z Bloggers

Website: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/atozchallenge/

Twitter handle: @AprilAtoZ

Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge