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.

EdgeOfAKnife

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

T is for Texas

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”.

T (1)

T is for Texas: 1836 – Thirty-three years after the Dixie States acquired territory from France by the Louisiana Purchase, the Mēxihcans attempt to claim Texas. The port of New Orleans is no longer in Kanatian hands, as it was the only concession that the Dixies received after invading the Chesapeake Bay area in 1812 and instead lost their capital at Richmond in the peace talks. From their new capital in Memphis, the Dixie States control the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf of Mēxihco, but Kanata still has trading posts all along the coast.

On the 13 February 1836, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna leads a Mēxihca army of six thousand troops north to wipe out the massively outnumbered Texian army garrisoned at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio de Béxar.  From there, seizing Texas will be straightforward. However, the unusually low temperatures in Texas, including snow, slow his progress and he is unaware that Kimantsi scouts have detected the army as it heads north and alerted the Mjölnir Militia at the trading post on the Nueces estuary. As the senior merchant, Donat Migisi values dealing with the Texians over the Mēxihcans. Kanata is anxious to see the buffer territory in the south of the continent strengthened.

With two hundred Kimantsi and Mjölnir guerrillas divided into two groups, Santa Anna’s army is harassed by a fast-moving enemy. After two weeks of ceaseless assaults, and with his forces disillusioned, Santa Anna reaches the Medina, where a final ambush decimates the invaders and only a thousand remain. The delays allow reinforcements from the other Dixie States to reach the Alamo, along with another fifty Mjölnir Militia led by Donat’s sister, Daina. Traps are set everywhere from covered pits, fire trenches and barricades creating pinch points for sharpshooters. The harassed army is driven forward by relentless marauders, and Santa Anna is forced to sue for peace. “We’ve ensured the Mexicans remember the Alamo, and remember to stay south of the Nueces,” say Colonels Travis and Bowie.

 

Fall-of-the-alamo-gentilz_1844

The Fall of the Alamo, painted by Theodore Gentilz in 1844, depicting the Alamo complex from the south. The Low Barracks, the chapel. and the wooden palisade connecting them are in the foreground. – Texas State Library – Public Domain.

 

In our timeline: Richmond, Virginia was the most permanent capital of the Confederacy in the American Civil War. Although 25% of the city’s buildings were destroyed, by departing Confederate troops, the city recovered – as did Washington which the British burnt during the War of 1812, when the US invaded the British provinces of Canada.

Memphis did see some action during the Civil War as a strategic location on transportation routes. Its access by water was key to its initial development, with steamboats plying the Mississippi river. Railroad construction strengthened its connection to other markets to the east and west.

Tragically, “Remember the Alamo” is linked to a heroic but bloody defeat of the brave Texian defenders under Colonels Travis and Bowie. Snow did hamper the Mexican army, and Comanche warriors did harass the advancing troops, many of whom were conscripts, but the reinforcements were delayed and there were Mexican settlers in Texas spreading false information as well as spying for Santa Anna. Texian Army General Sam Houston was only able to exact revenge afterwards, at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Could the combined strategies of the Kimantsi warriors and the Mjölnir Militia with their generations of elite fighting prowess have bought the crucial time for the reinforcements? Was Kanata correct to side with a neighbour that had invaded them twenty-four years earlier?

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