Acclaimed alternative history author Robert Conroy tackles the question “What if the Little Bighorn hadn’t been Custer’s last stand?” in the upcoming 1882: Custer in Chains. Conroy writes an excellent opening account of a Battle of Little Bighorn where Custer and a remnant of his force saved by Maxim gunfire breaking the Indian attack. Custer goes on to become President, and seeks a way to leave a legacy and alleviate the boredom of being President by taking on the decaying Spanish Empire for fun and land acquisition.
Custer in Chains is the author’s ninth novel, and Conroy has mastered carrying the reader into his world with effective use of historical and fictional characters at the sharp end of events.
Shifting points of view between the movers and shakers, such as Custer and the “little people” not only keeps the pacing steady and the reader engaged but neatly avoids obvious infodumps by naturally conveying information to the reader through character interaction. Conroy pulls this off in this book as well but not as effectively as he did in Liberty: 1784.
If you have more than a passing knowledge of the life and times of George Custer, then you might share my only real quibble with Custer in Chains, I could never accept the decision Conroy made to jump straight from Little Bighorn to President Custer in 1882 without any real examination of what happened in between. Conroy had a character explain that the Army would “circle the wagons”, post the survivors including Custer far away and let things die down.
In the military,having most of your command massacred is not likely to have been easily overlooked simply because you won the day. Further, President Ulysses Grant despised Custer, (he publicly blamed Custer for the defeat — which was unusual during that time when the person was not there to defend himself) Grant would have liked nothing better than to finish the job the Sioux started, and as Commander in Chief could have made it happen..
Other than that, the book itself is a good read. You care about the characters, and what happens to them. The story keeps you turning the page and the history (with one exception) is both plausible and engaging. Sadly, its likely to be Conroy’s last as he passed away on December 30th.
Custer in Chains is currently available as a e-ARC at www.baenbooks.com and is due for general publication on May 5th.