Peter Tsouras’s second volume in his “Britannia’s Fist” trilogy picks up near where his last one left off. Having entered the war as a result of a naval incident off the coast of Ireland, the British have occupied parts of Maine and upstate New York. Portland lies under siege, and the Royal Navy has broken the blockade of the South, though at considerable cost. Now with new life breathed into the Confederate cause, a French army marches up from Mexico to aid in the recapture of New Orleans and Lee outmaneuvers Meade to strike as Washington itself. Yet with the Copperhead rebellion broken in the Midwest, the battle-hardened Union responds to the new threats, aided by a host of new technologies. But will it be enough to save the United States from its host of enemies?
The Civil War is as well-trodden a subject for alternate history as it is for military history. Yet Tsouras’s book stands out for two reasons. The first is his divergence point; his use of the controversy of the Laird Rams as the reason for the war’s expansion, is original and it allows him to portray a more advanced conflict than is justifiably possible in similar novels. The second is his expertise. With a background in military intelligence, Tsouras brings considerable knowledge of martial affairs, which adds to the verisimilitude to his narrative. These two elements often combine to make for dramatic descriptions of battles in places like Kennebunk and Claverack, accounts that are among the high points of this book.
Yet the strengths of Tsouras’s book are counterbalanced by glaring flaws. Often his narrative is interrupted by long descriptions of regimental histories and uniforms that show off Tsouras’s research but do little to advance the story. Some of that effort would have been better spent familiarizing himself with the broader historical background, as his plot exposes some disappointing gaps in his knowledge. His portrayal of Benjamin Disraeli as the Conservative Party leader in 1863 is a particularly large whopper given how he develops his plot (and one that gives added meaning to Angus Hawkins’s choice of The Forgotten Prime Minister as his title of his biography of the man who was, in fact, the actual leader of the Tories at that time). Errors such as this can temper the enjoyment of the novel and raise doubts about the depth of his research in non-military affairs. Hopefully Tsouras will address these weaknesses while building upon his strengths in the final volume, which holds promise for a dramatic end to his alternate history series.