Young Ashoka is an elephant trainer in India when the broader world of international politics intervenes in his life. He finds himself enslaved by the primary commercial superpower of the region, the empire of Carthage, in which his skill and empathy working with elephants eventually bring him to the notice of power-brokers connected with the Carthaginian forces Hannibal will lead against Rome.
This device, in addition to allowing Berger to explore Ashoka’s world, also doubles as a canny and very effective way to dramatize the events of the Second Punic War in a way no other novel has: from the point of view of a trainer of one of Hannibal’s famous war-elephants. The result is a fast-paced and richly entertaining new look at familiar historical fiction territory. The fact that the author not only manages to work in a love story for Ashoka but also make it feel natural rather than forced is just an added bonus.