What a wonderful surprise this was. Ok, my expectations should have been high starting another book in the SF Masterworks series but I hadn't heard much talk of this author and wasn't overly bowled over by the premise. This is an alternative history
story, what might have happened if the south had won the American civil war.
The speculations are themselves quite interesting, The American north becoming impoverished and backward, allowing the European colonial powers to carry on dominating the world stage for longer, the Confederate south becoming powerful, conquering Mexico. Also of interest are the different technological paths that are explored leaving the world (in 1952) without aeroplanes, cars and electricity but far more developed in other ways such as in hot air balloons and gas utilisation.
More interesting though is the story of the central character Hodge. A natural book-worm and academic who grows up in a world that has no place for such impractical people. At first he merely wants to read and learn about the world, to take no active part in its affairs, nor take sides with those political and agitating forces mobilising around him. Can he merely observe and chronicle or is inaction itself just another form of action, a choice that may shape events one way or another? And does he really have a choice or is freedom itself merely an illusion?
A superbly written tale with well drawn characters and a pleasing narrative style. Now I can't wait to check out what else this author has to offer.