Alternate history is a subgenre I approach with caution. When done well by someone who really knows their history, it can be truly excellent. There can be a combined sense of fun where both reader and author get to simply play with history. The problem, of course, is that more often than not it is not done particularly well. This can be excruciating, especially when it’s a period of history you know well, and cards on the table, I am a dyed in the wool Civil War buff. So with 1862, Conroy is immediately on shaky ground.
Conroy approaches a fairly well worn idea—what if the British had entered the American Civil War on the Confederate side. This is a game of “what if” that has interested historians, amateurs, and, for that matter, the Confederates themselves since the War itself. It has been picked over, and examined from all different angles. It is the subject of a number of other alternate history books, some of which are even very good.
Conroy takes the Trent Incident as his divergence point where the seizure of 3 Confederates from a British ship does, in fact lead to war. He has clearly thought through his larger points. His basic argument is that even with British intervention, the Union still had the manpower and resources to win. This is an historical argument I have some sympathy with, its presentation here, however, is unconvincing and unfortunate. The battles are well written and the action moves quickly. Conroy knows his period, but outside the realm of historical knowledge and battles, this is a disappointing, almost amateurish book. There are multiple scenes where two historical characters essentially give voice to Conroy’s historical arguments.
1862 is a quick read with some nice battles and limited characterization, but is ultimately formulaic and disappointing.