The House of Thunder, Book 1, The Father, is the history of Hamilcar Barca’s wars. The book begins with an overview of Mediterranean power 264BC, including a brief outline of the history of Carthage and Rome up to that time. We join Hamilcar as he returns from a successful campaign in Iberia and is given the task of leading Carthage’s forces in Sicily. Most of the ms is concerned with this campaign: the early successes in disrupting the Roman siege armies; the lack of support from the Carthaginian senate; the geurilla tactics, due to lack of reinforcements from Carthage, that hold the Romans in stalemate; the forward thinking by the Romans to wrest control of the seas from Carthage; the final decisive naval battle and Hamilcar’s negotiated surrender.
The majority of the principal characters are set in this section, the focus being on the soldiers and politicians, though brief family and personal thumbnails suffice for what little personal life the general is able to enjoy.
Back in Carthage, Hamilcar retires to a country estate, but is soon requested back to duty when the Roman senate rejects Hamilcar’s treaty and demands greater reparations. This causes Hanno, general, senator, and principal politician of the ‘peace party’, to refuse to pay ninety percent of the pay owed Hamilcar’s largely mercenary army. Hanno leads the Carthaginians (and Iberians) against those who rebel, and is fooled and routed, causing the destruction of a good deal of the army. As the rebels march on Carthage, Hamilcar is called to battle his former comrades. He agrees, with the rider that, if victorious, he be allowed command of the army and to decamp to Iberia to ensure and build on Carthage’s provinces and silver supplies in that territory.
The defeat of the rebels, in a clever, but uncommonly valourless battle, leaves a sour taste in Hamilcar’s mouth. A further blow is dealt when the Senate refuses to allow his wife to accompany him to Spain, as is Carthaginian policy.
Hamilcar still departs, taking his daughter, newly married to his chief lieutenant, and his eldest son, the almost ten year old Hannibal, with him for a few months.
In Iberia, he begins his lifelong ambition, to secure and build that province into a power that can withstand the might of a Roman attack, and even, when ready, be able to attack Rome itself, unexpectedly across the Pyrenees and the Alps, rather than by sea. In the last days of the first stage of his plan, the securing of Iberia, Hamilcar is treacherously killed by a mountain chief who wooed him with promises of friendship and support.
His son-in-law, Hasdrubal, newly elected commander of the armies, along with the stout-hearted Iberian general Areva, avenge the betrayal, finalise the securing of Iberia, and set out on stage two of Hamilcar’s plan, the building of a powerful provincial centre in Iberia. The book ends with the young Hannibal arriving for his military training as the foundations of New Carthage rise around him.
A very entertaining way to avail yourself of a large chunk of the history of the fall of Carthage and the rise of Rome, Craig invests his history with some fictional strategies, and the read is all the better for it. This is Punic military history at its best and makes the likes of Gladiator pale in comparison
A moving but eye-opening tale of the struggles of the McCallum family crofters, from the battle of Waterloo to a bleak homecoming for a crippled veteran. A child, a long rebuilding, a marriage and a short sylvan respite before the brief and bloody bastardry of the Clearings to bring in the sheep, including the murder of Hamish; the traipsing back and forth across Scotland from kelping to coalmining to feed the woollen mills, and finally immigration as assisted immigrants to Australia. It’s become the story of Dougal and Morag: the deprivations and terrors of the long, long sea voyage; the luck to leave Sydney. Salvation in a job on the land in Lithgow turns back to coal mining for the mill; the gamble on gold and years roughing it in a tent on a muddy pitch; the scraping together of a deposit for a selection; the backbreaking, endless establishment work in the first years on an isolated high country forty acres; the tragedy of locusts taking their hard won twenty-acre first crop in the third year, and the disaster of bushfire down to the wire in the last chance on a grand forty-acre crop to pay for the selection. All lost. Back to Lithgow, blackened and beaten by the wool squatters, to life in a tent and a job in the coal mine, to feed the rail that carries the wool.
An outline of the history, yes, but the heart is in the unbreakability of the family connections, the warmth of their connections, their absolute reliance on each other for the simplest level of survival, something alien to many of today's citizens of British heritage in this country(Australia), and the desperate, indomitable will for survival of these poor folk as the yoke of class, money and power shadows their escape halfway round the world. Craig has achieved something pretty unique here, and though conditions have changed, the lessons still apply today. Definitely worth a read.