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    Review of 1824: THE ARKANSAS WAR by Eric Flint


    DelRey, November 2006

    It's been a decade since the War of 1812, and the 'solution' to the American Indian problem that Sam Houston dreamed up is coming unraveled. The new Republic of Arkansas has become a destination for runaway slaves and freedmen, who now make up more of its population than do the Indians. And the fertile bottomland along the Arkansas River, is a tempting prize for slave-owning whites. Even Houston's longtime mentor, Andrew Jackson, warns Houston that he can't hold back the tide. Hoping to create a nationalistic fervor, Henry Clay and other leaders fund a raid by white filibusterers. Even if they're defeated by the mostly-black army of Arkansas, they won't be missed and many Americans will call out for vengence.

    In our own history, the election of 1824 was split between Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and Henry Clay. Adams and Clay reached a deal in Congress, with Adams becoming the new President. In this alternate history, the massacre in Arkansas territory tilted the election to Clay--but at the cost of him selling out to the pro-slavery forces of the deep south.

    Author Eric Flint (see more reviews of novels by Flint) continues the story he begain in THE RIVERS OF FIRE (see our review). Although the American Indian issue remains, the question of slavery, which had already become a running wound in the young Republic, was brought to a head by the existance of a militarily strong Black Nation in its midst.

    Flint uses a variety of historical figures--starting with Sam Houston who, in our history was badly wounded in the opening battles of the War of 1812, but in this universe became a popular military hero, but also including the young John Brown, John Quincy Adams, William Jennings Bryant, many others, as well as creating a variety of characters who never became known in our universe but who different circumstances cast to the fore in this.

    1824: THE ARKANSAS WAR is very strong alternate history. Flint uses his alternate history to shed a different light on our own history. The process of manifest destiny worked its way out largely through filibustering rufians (at best) as much as through high-minded patriotism. And the question of slavery was a deep injury to our nation long before it cast us into the most deadly war of our history. It's easy, as well, to see reflections on our current history as we embark again on illegal wars sold to the public with the idea that they will result in quick victory.

    Certainly one can quibble with the history. Henry Clay is Flint's villain--and it isn't clear to me that the historical Clay is really accurately depicted. The alliance between Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson also seems a bit far-fetched, although if you buy the Clay picture, it certainly makes sense. And I like to think that even a minimally talented military officer like future-president William Harrison wouldn't have protected his flanks during an assault on a fortress. That said, however, 1824 is emotionally strong, an interesting and valid use of alternate history to shed a different light on the road our nation actually took in the past (and continues to take today), and one bang-up exciting story.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 12/28/05

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