ISBN 0446361429 - Not a huge sci-fi fan, when I saw quotes on the cover and inside referring to "Fantasy and Science Fiction", I had fairly low expectations of this book. Sanders set me straight from the start with a wonderfully well-written story full of the kinds of details that will make almost any reader, with even the vaguest knowledge of U.S. history, smile - and sometimes laugh out loud - with recognition.
The Civil War has been re-written and the Confederacy has seceded. The land occupied by the United States in the real world is divided between the Union States, the thirteen states of the Confederacy and the Five Civilized Tribes in this alternate history. While the Union confined their Native American population to reservations, the Confederate States repaid their allies with land they deemed worthless. When a survey shows oil under that land, Cherokee leader Chief Albert Watie sends Amos Ninekiller to war, to find out the strength of the bargaining power this gives them. Amos serves his nation as the entire Cherokee Flying Corps, attached to the Fourth Virginia Pursuit.
Serving alongside him, the one friend he has from beginning to end, is Bill Faulkner. Bill's primary goal is to get out of this war alive and spend the rest of his life writing fiction. How these two men effect the history of the world as we know it is woven neatly into a well-told tale, full of references everyone will understand. The end of Amos' war seems a bit abrupt and comes suddenly. With only a few pages left to go, the reader may wonder if it's possible to tie everything up. The answer, honestly, is no - but the surprise twist at the end was very nicely done, changing, in one paragraph, the entire purpose of the story.
With appearances by characters ranging from Patton (a Major and a Union citizen who cannot really hope to advance to General in the Confederate service) to the daughter of Scarlett and Rhett, from Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton to Mata Hari, Sanders seems to reference anyone and everyone the reader thinks of in relation to the South and/or World War I - and more! With our WWII affected by the happenings in this WWI, the author gave a decades-early nod to the famous Native American codetalkers, which seemed like poor history at first. By the end, the need became obvious as WWII potentially fades from the books.
Chapters apart, the mentions of a white beagle who flies with his owner and, from certain angles, appears to be flying the plane himself and "a new Hun pilot, some sort of nobleman, flies an all-red Albatros" left me singing "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" for days. All in all, a wonderful read that is both a lot of fun AND thought-provoking, an unbeatable combination.