1882: Custer in Chains
by Robert Conroy
Cover Artist: Kurt Miller
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476780511
Date: 05 May 2015 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Custer misread the situation with the Sioux, and it cost him and the 7th Cavalry. In our timeline it cost them their lives. But what if, someone hadn't obeyed the given orders? Author Robert Conroy explores this alternative in one of his final novels.
Surrounded and trapped, Custer knows he's seen his last dawn. But just as the final assault begins, a horrendous ripping sound echoes through the hills and the Sioux begin to drop in numbers and then flee. Custer is saved and a great victory is won. Martin Ryder is promoted for saving Custer and promptly shipped off to a frontier post, where his version of events won't be heard.
Libbie Custer has enough ambition for any two people. She also has the brains and political acumen her husband lacks. With her help, Custer is elected to the Presidency of the United States. Being President isn't enough. Being remembered is important. The United States isn't ready to take on a true world power, but Spain might be just the ticket to enter the world stage. Manifest Destiny should take allow the United States to open up new lands, and one is just off the shores of Florida.
It is easy to start a war, but harder to win one. There are neither the troops or naval command to fight. A new army and navy will be needed. But with Custer not wanting to provide an opponent with the opportunity to cover themselves in glory, there are few experienced and competent commanders available.
Ryder is promoted again and called to be part of the leadership of the invasion force. Cuba is a tough nut to crack, there are a lot of Spanish troops as well as freedom fighters. A three way war would be a bigger mess. The war begins to take on a more modern feel. The winner will be determined in a brutal slugging match, where viciousness will be the final key.
There are several points of view in this tale to give the person on the spot view of events. This is similar to the work of Harry Turtledove, especially How Few Remain. The views of Cuban Patriots and Spanish loyalists show the complex nature of the different factions as well as the fine line that needs to we walked.
This, like all of Conroy's works is a stand-alone novel. Only some basic history is needed to follow most of the references. A little knowledge of the root causes of the Spanish American War and a little about Custer's Last Stand. The scenario is relatively plausible as Custer's political ambitions were well known.
With his passing, a strengthening voice of Alternate History was lost. Each volume Conroy wrote showed improvement. What I liked most is that he told his stories in a single volume. Many times that is all it takes to create a great new world and tell the story. In an age with ever lengthening series, Conroy was a breath of fresh air.