Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Father - Chris Craig

    2012; 478 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Historical Fiction (Military); Biography.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    The book’s title refers to Hamilcar Barca, Carthage’s most renowned military leader until his son, Hannibal Barca, came along one generation later and famously came within a hair’s breadth of conquering the Roman Empire.

    Hamilcar’s feats were no less spectacular – battling the vastly larger Roman military forces to a stalemate in the first Punic War; saving Carthage from a life-threatening revolt of its mercenary army, and expanding the Carthaginian Empire in Spain, including exploiting the silver mines there to pay the huge war penalty imposed by Rome on Carthage.

    Truly, this is the stuff legends are made of, yet until now, little has been written about elder of the two Barca military geniuses.

What’s To Like...
    The Father is part Military Fiction, part Biography.  Hamilcar’s early years are missing (both in the book and in History itself); when the story opens he is already married, and has a couple young children.  Chris Craig fills in the historical gaps with a bunch of plausible fictional details, such as the names of Hamilcar’s wife (Dido) and daughter (Sophie).

    The storyline is linear and divided into three parts.  The Sicilian campaign, aka the First Punic War (60%); the mercenary rebellion (25%); and the Spanish campaign (15%).  The characters are well-developed, and the author has a fine touch in detailing the battle tactics, technologies, and perhaps most telling, the political maneuverings in both Rome and Carthage.  The latter did more to doom Hamilcar’s military exploits than any Roman army.

    I was also impressed that, while the storyline unfolds with a definite pro-Carthaginian slant, the Romans are not portrayed as vile and despicable.  In truth, two empires were vying for supremacy in a region where there was only room for one to dominate.

   As with any biography, the tale ends with Hamilcar’s death, but we are also left with 19-year-old Hannibal on the cusp of his rendezvous with Fate.

    The writing is top-notch – it’s nice to read something steeped in History that isn’t dry and boring.  There is nothing R-rated in the book.  I suppose it would be rated PG for some violence, such as elephants stomping the life out of soldiers unluckily caught in their path, but there’s no unnecessary gore.  The book is both a standalone and the start of a series; and YA and adult history buffs alike will enjoy it.

    “But what of these Spanish women,” persisted Dido.
    “I didn’t notice any.  Well – there are some there.  But they are all, well, dark and hairy.  Not elegant and beautiful like our Carthaginian women, my darling,” Hamilcar said, burying his face in a goblet of wine.
    “Well, I suppose that’s alright then.  But Maherbal, I don’t want you sending my husband off anywhere with an abundance of beautiful women.”
    “I don’t believe we have plans to invade the Amazons,” replied Maherbal.  (loc. 804)

    “Father,” Hannibal asked eventually, “who is our greatest enemy?  You have fought many.  And before your time our city fought the Greeks.  So, I mean, who is our most dangerous enemy, the Greeks, the barbarians, rebels or the Romans?”
    “You forget the enemy within, son,” Hamilcar replied, “every time I have fought an enemy, I have first had to defeat our own Senate.”  (loc. 6180)

Kindle Details...
    I bought The Father for $2.99 at Amazon.  This is Book #1 of a trilogy about the Barca family, aka “The House of Thunder”.  Book #2, The Son, is available at SmashWords.  Book #3, The Fall, is apparently still in the works.  Chris Craig has several other books available for the Kindle at SmashWords, but ANAICT, only this one available at Amazon.

“That is the difference between us.  Carthage makes war for trade.  We trade to make war.”  (loc. 2981)
    There are a couple minor gaps in the historical details.  Some of the atrocities committed by Hamilcar in quelling the mercenary insurgency are conveniently omitted.  Also, I don’t recall that the name of Hamilcar’s second son ever being mentioned (it was Hasdrubal); and most historical sources claim that there were three daughters, not just Sophie.  But given that historians still can’t agree on exactly how Hamilcar died, we’ll allow the author a long literary leash for detailing this biography as he sees fit.

    I thoroughly enjoyed The Father.  It should be mentioned that “Hamilcar Barca” is my nom d’Internet, and therefore I may be favorably inclined to the subject matter herein.

    9 Stars.  Add another ½-star if you revel in the minutiae of battlefield tactics.  Subtract ½-star if you  liked the Roman legions kicking the crap out of everybody way back when.  And if ancient history makes you yawn, you should probably skip this book.

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