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  • Writer's pictureEmily

I don't know who to root for in Civilizations

Binet, Laurent- Civilizations

The premise of this book is a fascinating what-if. It begins with Viking exploration of Canada. A woman, Freydis, broke away from the others and took a ship south. Her crew went far enough to get to the Inca empire. I wished that this section was longer; Freydis was so fierce and determined. And of course, as an American, I was especially interested when she was exploring what would become part of the US.

Her crew interacted with several different tribes, unfortunately making many of them ill. When they got to the Inca people, they assimilated, not without some problems, but Freydis prospered.

In the next stage, the Columbus expedition gets to a New World where the Inca people have iron weapons and previous exposure to European germs, and some of them have red hair. This is 500 years after Freydis, and she is just a legend to them. Columbus and his crew set out crosses all over the place and look for gold and explain to everyone that the land belongs to Spain... in this version, they are picked off and besieged.

So far, this really isn't giving away much. This is setting up the main part of the story. in which an Inca emperor, Atahualpa, takes Columbus's ships east to Europe. Then they do what colonizers do, but their difference is that they are so much better to the poor, that they win the peasants to their cause. That isn't the only difference, and honestly, I was hanging on every word. A brisk trade between Europe and South America develops and ... just wait until the Mexicans arrive.

This was when I couldn't decide if I was rooting for either side. Because colonizers are bad, right? But there were such awful problems in Europe at the time. Also, it's hilarious to see how King Henry VIII reacts to a new religion that allows multiple wives.

The book wraps up with imagined adventures of the writer Cervantes living in post-colonial Europe.

In each of these four parts, a new culture, a new set of characters, and a new set of problems are explored. There are also differing formats: the Columbus part is written as a journal, part of the emperor's part is written as letters.

This story has so much detail and such interesting characters that it makes me want to read all the real history I can get my hands on. If I didn't have to keep a job...

There is a ton of story packed into a pretty small book here, and it was a fast read for me because I couldn't put it down. I highly recommend it. Also, such a pretty cover.

I'd love some recommendations for non-fiction books about pre-Columbian North or South America. Please drop some in the comments! Or other alter-histories.

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