I enjoyed everything else I have read from Harry Harrison, who is usually brilliant, and am fascinated by alternative history, so I expected to like this book.
This is the first book in the "Stars and Stripes" trilogy which comprises
1) "Stars and Stripes forever"
2) "Stars and Stripes in Peril
3) "Stars and Stripes Triumphant
The starting premise - Britain blundering into war with the North in the American civil war - is horrifyingly plausible, which is not surprising as this very nearly happened. The first part of the book, up to that stage, is well done.
However, the author then abandons any attempt at either a realistic attempt to work through what might have happened, or to look sympathically at how the situation might have developed from the viewpoint of all sides.
Instead, looking for a way to turn both the USA and CSA into heroes - including people who in real life were racist supporters of slavery - he casts the Brits as utterly incompetent and evil cretins who both sides can unite against. I was going to call it the Mel Gibson school of alternative history, except that this book almost makes "Braveheart" and "The Patriot" look pro-British by comparison.
Although it isn't a positive for me to read a book in which my country is shown in a bad light, this doesn't usually make it impossible for me to enjoy a work of fiction. Heaven only knows Britain has had its share of reverses and like every other country in the world has been responsible for some stupid or wicked mistakes.
However, the increasingly implausible sequence of one idiocy after another through which this book has the British blundering into war against both parties in the American civil war is over the top. The idea that a Commander in Chief of any civilised nation could simultaneously be moronic enough to commit the acts attributed to the Duke of Cambridge in this book, and clever enough to prevent his own government finding out what he had done and sacking him, is ludicrous beyond belief.
Harry Harrison is almost the last writer on earth I would have expected to prostitute his enormous talents by churning out such chauvinistic rubbish. One-sided nationalism is not usually his style at all, and his other work is usually far less sycophantic towards his fellow americans in general and supporters of slavery in particular.
Harrison has written another book about a set of events which might have changed the course of the US Civil War/War between the States - "Rebel in Time
" - which is far superior to this.
The market for this book is people who like America, hate the British, and are not too bothered about historical plausibility. So it may sell some copies in the USA, and probably a few in Ireland (though as I'm married to an Irish catholic girl I think I'm qualified to say that not everyone in Ireland falls into these categories.) In the rest of the world most of those who don't like the Brits don't like the USA either, and they would be even less sympathetic to the Confederates.
For anyone who is looking for a good account of how the American Civil war might have gone wrong, try Harry Turtledove's brilliant "The Guns of the South
," or "How Few Remain" and the "Great War," "American Empire," and "Settling Accounts" series which follow it. Or indeed Harry Harrison's "Rebel in Time".