For the first, and only time I received an email to alert me to the fact that one of my Kindle books had been improved since I had bought it. My copy of The Mongoliad: Book Two had been improved with a short-story prequel called The Dreamer and a map (I love maps) – maybe these ebook things are the future of books after all. As I may have moaned about in my previous review, The Mongoliad: Book One, multi-point-of-view epic fantasy novels like this scream out for a map. As the characters move about you want to be able to picture their journey, you want to know how far apart different sub-plots are taking place – in short, you need a map, or two maps, or pages of maps. The map is nothing special, but it's certainly adequate. The Kindle only shows it in black and white, but I did discover that if you move the cursor onto the map and select it rotates the map to fill the whole screen – fabulous.
Mark Teppo's short-story, The Dreamer, is the tale of a visitor to the La Verna retreat of Saint Francis of Assisi. Set a few years before the events of The Mongoliad: Book One, in 1224, the story covers the arrival of the Crusader, Raphael, into the community of Francis and his Fratricelli, and the excitement that causes amongst the brothers. Alternate chapters are presented as flashbacks to the first meeting of Francis and Raphael, during the fifth crusade at Damietta through 1218–1219. Raphael is the same crusader who features in the Shield Brethren in the Mongoliad some years later (in 1241). I don't know exactly how the writing duties of The Mongoliad are divided up, but Mark Teppo seems to have an affinity with Raphael – I understand that Sinner concentrates on the same character as well – but this short story provides a fascinating insight into the origins of one of the epic's side characters.
Flash forward to 1241 – The Mongoliad: Book Two picks up the story from the end of Book One. My complaint that that novel didn't really finish is answered with the realisation that the trilogy is obviously going to be one continual story rather than three stories. That's fine, but I felt a little let down at the end of book one – I wanted some sort of resolution. I'm not expecting one this time. Again, chapters jump between a number of stories rather than specific character viewpoints. Firstly the new story is that of Ferenc and Father Rodrigo Bendrito having completed their difficult journey to Rome. A journey that seems to have almost cost the priest his life. Rome itself is under a siege – of sorts – the Cardinals of Rome are being held in conclave. The Pope is dead and a new one needs to be selected. However, there is intrigue that the Borgias would be proud of and the Cardinals aren't going to be allowed out until they have selected the 'correct' new Pope. We also get to meet a new character, Ocyrhoe, who appears to be a strong parallel to Cnán from the previous novel. Not only does Ocyrhoe pretty much replace her as the designated interesting female character, she also appears to be one of those strange Binder people that we didn't really learn much about before. Somehow she manages to communicate with Ferenc through a language of knots – I'm looking forward to finding out more about these Binders, but there's only the third book to go...
The second story splits into two, having won his battles in the Mongolian Circus in Book One, Haakon's reward appears to be that he's shoved in a cage and transported across the Mongol empire as a prize for the Khan. Meanwhile his companions are left behind with no idea where he has gone. Instead they are distracted with their quarrels with the Livonian Knights and their attempts to form an alliance against the Mongols with the Khan's prize fighters. In a fashion reminiscent of the Baker Street Irregulars, the orphans, organised by Hans, acts as the go-between between these prize fighters and the Shield Brethren.
The second group of Shield Brethren are still moving across the Mongol empire, with Cnán in tow (although she seems to play a much reduced role this time – possibly to make room for Ocyrhoe and Vera of the Shield Maidens). Having reached Kiev, they have liberated a group of Shield Maidens who were under siege by a group of Livonian Knights (these guys sound like right bastards) and are being chased by a group of Mongol warriors.
Finally, the continuing romance part of the story, between Gansukh and Lian, in the Khagan's party as he takes a spiritual journey back to his home. To try and put his demons to rest and rediscover his Mongol heart. He cannot remain the leader of the Mongol empire unless he can control his drinking. Meanwhile Lian would love to escape on the journey – but with, or without Gansukh?
Again, it's a transition novel. The stories introduced in the first novel are continued, but not finished. New stories are introduced in Rome, but also not finished. I couldn't put the novel down, and I raced through it. Each of the storylines is slightly different – presumably as a result of the, frankly massive writing cast splitting the duties between them. Apart from some slightly awkward similarities between Cnán and Ocyrhoe, neither the characters nor the storylines become blurred and all manage to retain their unique qualities. I hope the final novel ties up the loose ends, until then I'll have to hunt down the short stories.