John Maddox Roberts,
Hannibal's Children
(Ace, 2002)

John Maddox Roberts has a flair for immersing his readers in the lives of ancient Romans in his acclaimed SPQR mystery novels. In Hannibal's Children, Roberts again puts us in ancient Rome, but this time there's a twist. Perhaps a brief history lesson is in order.

Rome and Carthage were adversaries in three wars in the third century BC. In history, Rome won both the first and third (and final) Punic Wars, but Carthage routed the Romans in the second. But here occurs the signature "what if" of all alternate history novels. What would have happened if, after the Second Punic War, Hannibal had offered the Romans exile rather than utter defeat? In this case, the Romans do take the option of exile in 215 BC, coupled with a promise of revenge.

It takes 115 years, but by 100 BC the Romans have established themselves along the Danube River in Roma Noricum and are ready to regain what was lost to Carthage so many years ago. Marcus Cornelius Scipio is the Tribune leader we follow through the story as he aids in the preparations for Roma Noricum's return to the world stage. At the same time, Carthage is in a fragile state and is suffering from political infighting as its leaders prepare to expand their grasp on the Mediterranean by invading Egypt.

Roberts has once again succeeded in taking the reader deep into Roman life, even though it is not the Rome to which we are accustomed. Marcus Scipio is definitely an easily likeable character, and Roberts's writing makes him a convincing one as well. In order to witness the further implications of this alternate history, we'll have to read the contracted sequel to Hannibal's Children.

[ by Carie Morrison ]
Rambles: 7 June 2002

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