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    Review of THE SEVEN HILLS by John Maddox Roberts

    Ace Books, March 2005

    Defeated by Hannibal, Rome retreated over the Alps, creating a new northern republic. But now, with Carthage distracted by an invasion of Egypt, new Roman legions, consisting of Romans of Italian, German, and Gaulish citizens have reconquered Italy and vow to take their fight to the very walls of Carthage. In Egypt, Marcus Cornelius Scipio cultivates Seline (Cleopatra) and discovers the power of applied philosophy, experimenting with steam power, metal warships, and hang gliders. Meanwhile, with four legions, Titus Norbanus sets off on a march from the deserts of Sinai through Israel, Selucia, Thrace, and Greece--finally setting off toward Spain and a collision with Hamilcar who commands Carthage.

    Author John Maddox Roberts (see more reviews of novels by Roberts) creates a fascinating alternate history with his examination of a world where Hannibal won the second Punic war, but failed to completely destroy the Roman Republic. As with the historical Republic, Roman society is transformed by the huge influx of wealth that comes from conquest and contact with the older civilizations of the Helenic and Punic civilizations. Unlike historical Rome, though, the influx of wealth is sudden, happening in years rather than over generations. The old republican virtues remain strong even as generals look to seize the dictatorship.

    Roberts uses two Greek philosophers to serve as his 'eyes,' letting them see the recreated Roman Republic with foreign eyes and allowing him to explore the nature of Rome more closely than if he had used only Roman protagonists. And clearly Roberts knows his subject. I think the adoption of Archimedean philosophy is something of a stretch for Roberts, with the attendant development of hang gliders, paddle wheels, steam power, and submarines. Still, perhaps the Romans would have given engineering more attention of Archimedes had defended Syracuse against Carthaginians rather than Romans.

    Greek philosophy and Roman law form the structure underlying the entire western world. As such, alternate history analyses of the Roman world hold an inherent interest. John Maddox Roberts brings a strong knowledge of Roman history and admiration for Roman achievements into a fascinating alternate history account.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 5/08/05

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