1912, and mysterious lights appear in the skies, visible on the horizon to much of the world. To those in Europe, the lights are a vast sheet of rippling flame, covering the entire sky. In America, people listen breathlessly as reports from the great cities of Europe tell of hundreds of thousands on the streets, staring up at God's own lightshow...
...then the Transatlantic cable suddenly goes silent.
Days later, the first ship arrives at what should be Cork Harbor, in Ireland, only to find instead of the docks, the town, the green hills, an endless and bizarre jungle, like nothing else on Earth - and not a sign of man. The geography is the same, but the harbor is unimproved, no buildings, nor even any ruins are visible on shore...
...and everywhere the jungle, the unearthly jungle, covers all.
And as more ships arrive, they discover that not only has Ireland been changed, but all of Europe is now...replaced. Replaced by the new land - Darwinia.
1920, and the Smithsonian has sent an expedition to explore the heart of the new Europe. A few settlements have sprung up on the fringes of the continent, created by those who were away from their home when it vanished, or those trying to make a new home in a new land. As the expedition sails up what was the Rhine, they are unknowingly heading for a strange city. A city that just might hold the clue to what happened to Europe - and what might happen next.
That is, assuming they survive...
This is a thoroughly strange book. I'm not even sure it technically is Alternate History - though what other category I could put it in is a mystery. The first half of the book is pretty much set-up of the situation and then the Smithsonian Expedition up the Rhine (it's planned that it will cross the Alps and come down again in Italy). Then they (or rather, the survivors) find a strange stone city, the only made thing ever seen on the converted continent, and things start getting really strange.
That's the second half of the book.
From an AH point of view, Wilson's description of the rest of the world's reaction to the replacement of Europe is well handled. The conversion is considered a "miracle" and religion hits an all time high (in fact, the continent is named "Darwinia" almost as a joke, an ironic comment that this is the final proof that Darwin - and all his scientific ilk - were wrong, and God is fully in charge), so "Creationism" is the geology/biology of the "scientific" majority (and if you believe anything else, keep it to yourself if you want to still have a University career). The U.S. and Japan are now, basically, the only remaining "superpowers" in the world, and the U.S. has declared the continent open for all settlers - which does not sit well with the few remaining Germans, French, or other expatriates who feel "once Europe, always Europe." The British Empire has managed to claim the converted British Isles as theirs and make it stick, but that's about all - and there are rumblings that the U.S. would like to challenge that claim too.
Like I said, all this is well handled, but it's all also relegated to the very fringes of the actual story - so far to the fringes that it's frustrating to an AH afficionado. It's incidental to the actual
I found the book both excellent and disappointing, which is odd. The story, the characters, all were very well written. But it's just too episodic for my tastes. It feels like a "novel" put together from a series of short stories (though it wasn't). We jump from 1920 to 1945 to 1965 to 1999 without hardly a glance at what's gone on in-between. That's the disappointing part, at least, if you're expecting an Alternate History (I was). But if all you're looking for is a good story, this is it.