The Seven Hills

Written by John Maddox Roberts
Review by Ann Chamberlin

The jumping-off point for this alternate history series occurred five generations ago, when Hannibal succeeded in conquering Rome and making the Mediterranean a Carthaginian Sea. Defeat obliged the Romans to carve out an exile for themselves in the cold, dark woods along the Danube. The Romans are back in Italy now, seeking revenge. Old families reclaim their lands, rebuild the paternal home along carefully remembered lines. On the way they’ve not only picked up blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan genes but have also stopped to turn Alexandria’s Museum and philosophers to practical technical application rather than the mere parlor tricks of waterwheel and Hero’s steam engine. Winged men fly reconnaissance instead of falling to Icarus’s fate, lateen-sailed boats zip as messengers across Mare Nostrum, submarines sink Carthaginian ships, a bronze-hulled, steam-driven navy is not far below the horizon.

All in all, the First Reich is poised to sidestep the fall it suffered in real history and carry on until the Third and even to surpass it. Aside from my uneasiness with the racial overtones that go along with any empire, magnified, and the fact that there are no Roman women (or they stay at home and are virtuous)—what women there are are exotic sirens to be subdued—I cannot fault the fast-paced action of this tale that reads like more of the same in the on-going saga of our heroes, scholarly Marcus Cornelius Scipio from the old family and hot-headed Titus Norbanus from the new. Roberts clearly knows and loves Rome, mourns its fall, and gives us gladii galore and phalanxes in adoring, eternal detail.