1824: THE ARKANSAS WAR
by Eric Flint
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Between the end of the American Revolution in 1783 and start of the Civil War in 1861, the United States was involved in six wars. While the War of Texas Independence is often used by authors to create a world in which Texas is an independent nation, these wars are generally overlooked when writing alternate history. With his novel 1812: The Rivers of War, Eric Flint picked up on the War of 1812 and created a United States which saw the apparently successful establishment of an Indian Confederacy in the south. 1824: The Arkansas War, picks up the action a dozen years later. As in our own world, James Madison finished her term in office and was succeeded by two-term president James Monroe. Unlike our world, however, this world has a foreign power to contend with in North America, and the Arkansas Confederation's liberal stance on slavery gives them many allies among the growing abolitionist movement. The historic election of 1824, which saw several major candidates vie for the election, is exacerbated in Flint's novel by the events which occur in the first third of the book, when abolitionists in Arkansas and the southerners whose states border upon the Confederation, increasingly look to create incidents which can touch off a full-fledged war. Flint uses a wide range of characters, many of them historical, in order to tell his story. Ranging from freedmen, like Sheff, who are serving in the Arkansas military all the way up to President Monroe and the contenders for his office, Flint captures the conflicting points of view in early nineteenth century America, adding the additional conflict of the Arkansas Confederacy to the regional and racial differences which already existed. Despite the further complications, Flint is able to juggle to points of view quite well, not giving too much attention to any one point of view.
There are many novels which deal with alternative Civil Wars, usually by changing the course of the war as we know it. In 1824: The Arkansas War, Flint effectively moves the Civil War earlier by thirty-five years. The Missouri Compromise, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott Decision, and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry don't have the chance to radicalize the country, although John Brown does have a major role to play in Flint's novel.
One of the important things the Flint brings to 1824: The Arkansas War is the realization that history is not stagnant, something which would seem to be obvious in alternate history, but isn't. The alliances and enmities formed in 1812: Rivers of War are not the same twenty-four years later. Men who were on opposite sides of the conflict a dozen years earlier find themselves allied with former enemies through their own choice, not simply due to the vicissitudes of fate.
Flint successfully portrays a frequently overlooked period in American history and manages to bring it to life, even as he alters it to point a mirror on the way our actual history occurred. His characters, even at the highest echelons of society, demonstrate a frontier spirit as would be expected in a country still in its birth throes and trying to figure out what it is going to be. Flint's world and characters come to life to represent a nation that took a different turn.
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