Eric Flint’s new alternate history, The Rivers of War, charts the paths that might have been taken in order to avoid the Trail of Tears. Flint doesn’t ignore realities—as one character points out, very little could realistically stop the westward expansion of the nascent new nation, with its ceaseless influx of immigrants hungry for land. But in his vision, it might have been possible for the Cherokee to present a united front, united with escaped slaves and free men of color, and even “influential” white allies, and thus avoid the harsh, devastating effects of their ultimate relocation. If, that is, they moved themselves first.
This novel—the first in a projected two volume “series”—is set against the backdrop of the War of 1812. In March of 1814, General Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee Militia, together with their Cherokee allies, fight a decisive battle against the Creek Indians, a battle which puts young Sam Houston at the forefront of the conflict and elevates him in Jackson’s eyes. Flint’s subtle break from history begins in this battle, as an injury that nearly proved fatal in reality becomes merely a flesh wound—and thus alters the course of what is to come.
In the north, General Winfred Scott fights British regulars in a battle that sees one of his finest fighting men, Sergeant Patrick Driscoll, severely injured. Driscol’s wounds cost him his arm, but earn him something he never desired: a commission as a lieutenant. Scott sends Driscoll, together with an enlisted man nearly shot for desertion, to Washington, D.C., to recover from his wounds under the care of his personal physician (a "real doctor," something that terrifies Driscol, as he has little stomach for bleeding).
Jackson, meanwhile, wants to cement relations with the Cherokees and sends Sam Houston and a delegation of Cherokees to Washington. With Houston comes Tiana Rodgers, the beautiful daughter of an Indian chief who thinks she wants to marry him. Houston and his party arrive just as the British are attacking the city. Houston and Driscol—the battle-hardened veteran of the Napoleonic Wars—lead a spirited defense of the Capitol building, beating back the British. James Monroe, emboldened by their bravado, slips back into the city (and the Capitol itself) and thus meets both Houston and Driscol. After their successful defense of the Capitol, the men are sent to join Jackson in New Orleans. And it is in that battle where alliances will be formed, plans will be drafted, and lives will be altered so as change the course of history—or so it appears, even as the book closes with Jackson victorious and the new nation celebrating its ability to force the British into a stalemate.