More than two thousand years ago, the balance of power shifted, Africa became the dominant continent, and Europe stayed a barbarian backwater. Muslim Africans sailed west and conquered America, using white slaves as a workforce.
Aidan O’Dere was kidnapped as a boy from an Irish fishing village, and sold to the Wakil, the governor of what would otherwise be Galveston. The Wakil’s younger son, Kai, is the same age as Aidan. The Wakil and Kai are sensitive men, warriors with poets’ souls, with misgivings about the institution of slavery. Their respective brothers, Malik and Ali, are fierce, unforgiving warriors.
Kai and Aidan form a bond of sorts across the master-slave boundary. Aidan falls in love with Sophia, Kai’s cast-off concubine, and marries her. Later, Malik takes Sophia away to his own castle. Aidan takes part in an unsuccessful slave uprising. Eventually, he earns his freedom by fighting alongside Kai against the Aztecs.
Barnes has a little fun, inverting the cliches of slavery. The blacks look down on the white slaves as ‘ghosts’, deriding their primitive superstitions. On the whole, though, it’s a serious examination of slavery, showing how the institution debases the master as well as ruining the lives of the slaves. He also tackles the horrors of war, healthy and frustrated love, religion and mysticism, and guilt.